by David P. Greisman
The whole is not always greater than the sum of the parts. Sometimes the sum of the parts is indeed greater than the whole.
That would be an unfortunate truth in Saturday’s fight between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander.
The bout turned out to be a struggle between what each boxer wanted to do and what he would actually be able to do.
It proved to be a conflict between expectations and reality.
It wound up with an imbalance between what people paid for and what they received.
You pay to win, but that is never a guarantee. As my father reminded me every time a scratch-off lottery ticket failed to reveal winning numbers – you play to lose.
Everyone lost on Saturday.
Bradley and Alexander, as two of the top three boxers in the junior-welterweight division, were fighting for the right to be called the consensus No. 1 man at 140 pounds. The winner would have momentum carrying him toward a clash with the other of the three, Amir Khan. And the victor of that bout would be seen as the undisputed champion. The loser could take some consolation were he to be competitive in defeat.
HBO had paid a few million dollars and received a major fight with multiple natural storylines. The network had reportedly given itself a contractual option for a rematch and also had guaranteed money for subsequent HBO fights for both Bradley and Alexander. And after paying considerable cash to build Amir Khan, HBO had all three top junior welterweights to put its marketing muscle behind.
Promoters Gary Shaw and Thompson Boxing (Bradley) and Don King (Alexander) had put their fighters in the toughest matches of their careers, hoping for their guy to win and to become more of a star (and, hence, make them more money) – but also taking the chance that their guy would lose his world title and, hence, lose some luster.
The fight wasn’t good.
Such an outcome had been possible. Bradley is orthodox, a right-handed fighter. Alexander is a southpaw, a left-handed fighter. Such a pairing alone can lead to heads clashing accidentally. Throw in Bradley’s propensity for leading with his head, and the likelihood of ugliness became even greater.
Neither man had looked great in his last outing. Bradley’s win over Luis Carlos Abregu in July had come at welterweight, however, which is a lot of pounds to carry on such a compact frame. Alexander’s controversial win over Andriy Kotelnik had been against an opponent who perhaps had been underrated and underestimated.
But Bradley and Alexander were two fighters who otherwise are at a high level in the sport. And with the stakes so tremendous, there were great expectations for what the bout could be.
That’s not what the reality would be.
Bradley is shorter than Alexander, has slightly slower hands but was more willing to use his feet. He would charge forward to get close enough to throw punches. Juan Urango had been able to hurt Alexander to the body last March. Kotelnik had been able to land shots to Alexander’s head. Bradley would do both.
Forget the CompuBox statistics, which had Alexander landing 129 shots to Bradley’s 128 and 98 power punches to Bradley’s 89. Alexander’s punches carried less weight and came in flurries that did little damage and had little meaning. It was Bradley who scored with more clean, hard punches than Alexander.
“More” is a relative term.
Most of the fight was clinching, or wrestling, or missed punches. Alexander missed 346 total shots, or about three in every four thrown, including about 206 power punches, or about two of every three thrown. Bradley missed 291 total punches, including 168 power shots – about two of every three thrown.
Through nine complete rounds, they each averaged about 14 landed punches per round, with Alexander landing about 11 power punches every three minutes and Bradley landing just under ten.
Each man was acutely aware of what the other could do. Alexander would try to hold to keep Bradley from roughing him up inside. Bradley would duck to avoid Alexander’s punches and charge to keep Alexander from setting the tone of the fight.
Against opponents who are capable of plenty, much effort was expended to make sure the other was successful with less.
So while Bradley built a lead on the scorecards, he wasn’t dominating so much as being more effective.
And when the fight ended early in the 10th round after yet another clash of heads left Alexander complaining of a burning sensation in one of his eyes, nobody felt as if they had been robbed of two more rounds of action and drama.
Everyone would be robbed of the fight’s potential.
The fans had long demanded this fight. After it was finally signed and announced, they had anticipated it. They would not be satisfied.
Don King is now the promoter of the defeated fighter, and a boxer who didn’t look good in defeat, at that. Though Alexander was not beaten up, his reputation will need to be built back up, his momentum restarted.
Shaw and Thompson Boxing promote the winner, but the manner in which Bradley won will not draw as much interest and excitement behind him as there otherwise could have been had he dominated in thrilling fashion.
HBO paid money for a fight that might’ve had casual viewers changing the channel halfway through. It invested millions of dollars in boxers who are now less marketable than they were before they fought each other. It has reportedly declined its option to force a rematch between Bradley and Alexander and likely will pursue the natural storyline of Bradley facing Khan for the 140-pound championship.
That storyline will need some stylistic flourishes to get people anywhere close to being as interested in it as HBO had hoped they would be.
You always pay to win. Sometimes you play and lose, though.
You must keep playing. And paying.
The top fighters must still keep facing each other, both for pride and for money, in order to prove themselves as the best and to establish themselves as worthy of attention from fans, networks and ticket buyers.
The promoters must keep putting their top fighters in against tough opponents on the chance that they could hit it big. You can’t ride the horse to the prize if you don’t let it out of the gate.
And the networks must keep paying for fights between top fighters – so long as there’s the possibility of it being worth it. Bradley-Alexander was a logical investment for HBO, a match that just in being made had pleased the people who pay subscription fees to see the good fights and good fighters.
This was a decision closer to HBO paying for Chad Dawson’s rematch with Glen Johnson (and getting a bout that unexpectedly wound up much more boring than the first) – not a decision like HBO paying for Chad Dawson’s rematch with Antonio Tarver (and getting a one-sided victory for Dawson, just like their first bout).
Timothy Bradley is good. Devon Alexander is good. Their fight was not.
HBO paid seven figures to Bradley and seven figures to Alexander. The final product didn’t match the price.
But it was a pairing worth making and a price worth paying.
The 10 Count
1. Corrections: An early edition of last week’s column cited Thomas Hauser as reporting that the license fee HBO was paying for Bradley-Alexander was “close to $4 million” – but I omitted that the $4 million was not just for the license fee, but also for marketing and production costs.
Also, last week I noted that Sergio Martinez’s fight on March 12, just ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, would be supported by an undercard bout featuring two Irish fighters. While that was true when the bout was still John Duddy vs. Andy Lee, that was no longer true, as Duddy recently retired abruptly. Duddy has officially been replaced by a Scottish fighter named Craig McEwan.
I regret the errors.
2. I will always be in support of cross-pollination in boxing – a rising tide lifts all boats, says the cliché. I like that ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” seeks to be more than just a broadcast of fights each week, as it also takes a look at the numerous other aspects of boxing news.
Holt McCallany, the star of the new boxing-themed television drama “Lights Out,” should not have been interviewed in the middle of an undercard bout between Mike Dallas Jr. and Josesito Lopez.
It was reminiscent of when random celebrities used to sit in the “Monday Night Football” booth last decade, distracting the commentators from their duties and derailing the broadcast.
And so, while Lopez was landing the punches that would break down Dallas in the seventh round of their bout, Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore were talking to McCallany about how he’d taken an amateur boxing bout to prepare him for his role.
The broadcasters took a quick break to note a couple of Lopez’s punches landing, and then we heard: “Holt, you were saying…”
McCallany went back to his story right until the last moments of the fight.
“Big left hand!” Tessitore then said. “It’s over!”
Ah, yes, there was a fight going on, wasn’t there?
3. McCallany mentioned that Atlas is technical adviser to “Lights Out.”
Again, it’s not a bad thing to promote a boxing television show. But more publicity for “Lights Out” means more viewers which means more episodes which means more work for the crew which means more money for Atlas, right?
Atlas’ role was casually mentioned. If you weren’t paying close attention, you might’ve missed it.
Meanwhile, Jim Lampley rightly has to disclose his business relationship with Freddie Roach – Lampley is involved with a documentary television series about Roach – every time he works an HBO fight involving the trainer.
4. And now, to be fair, I must note that sports journalism is rife with potential and perceived and actual conflicts of interest – with boxing being worse than other sports, particularly among the writers.
Team broadcasters either work for team owners or for broadcast outlets not willing to rock the boat and endanger their contract. The great Jon Miller was infamously let go from his role doing the radio broadcasts for the Baltimore Orioles because he dared to be critical of the team, upsetting owner Peter Angelos.
Similarly, independent boxing pay-per-view broadcasts are controlled by the promoter. That doesn’t mean that the guys doing commentary are going to shill and not give their unbiased opinion. But it does become less likely that you’d hear the kind of honest, curmudgeonly criticism we’ve come to expect from Larry Merchant.
And then, just as Jim Gray profited by being handpicked to interview LeBron James on “The Decision,” there are many, many boxing journalists in business relationships with those they are to cover, working as lawyers, publicists and team members.
It’s not ethical. But it is somewhat understandable.
There are very few dedicated boxing beat writers at newspapers. An overwhelming majority of boxing coverage comes from people writing online, people working more for the love of what they do rather than for the small amount of compensation they get for doing it (and only a fraction of online boxing writers get paid anything at all).
There also aren’t policies on avoiding conflicts of interest that you’d otherwise see at a newspaper.
(Full disclosure: I’ve written one article for “THE RING” magazine, which is owned by Golden Boy Promotions. That has never had and never will have any bearing on the work I do.)
The issue isn’t necessarily these journalists seeking to promote their non-writing clients through their writing – I can’t recall a notable recent instance of that happening.
The problem is actually a hypothetical one:
If a writer were to become aware of something negative (or even something positive but secret) about a boxer or a promoter, where would his obligations lie – to his client, or to the truth? For example, if a writer were to learn that a boxer were on steroids or that a promoter was looking to make a major signing, would he get in touch with another journalist, who could then reveal the story?
What would his readers say if they knew a writer were sitting on a story because of his other role?
I’ve got many friends and acquaintances working in both sides of boxing. I don’t begrudge them for what they do – they have to earn a living somehow. I don’t endorse it, however, and I just hope that, should the aforementioned situation arise, they’d do the right thing.
5. So long, Emanuel Augustus. May your retirement be a just reward for the sacrifices you made, fighting tough opponents on short notice for short money, winning some, losing some, and entertaining all the way.
6. Boxers/Boxing Trainers Behaving Badly update: Roger Mayweather, uncle and trainer to Floyd Mayweather Jr., has pleaded no contest to charges of battery and battery causing substantial harm, ending a legal case that started in 2009 with him attacking a female boxer who lived in a Las Vegas condominium he owns, according to the Associated Press.
Mayweather has been “sentenced to a year of probation, 24 weeks of domestic violence counseling, 50 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine,” per the report.
Mayweather, now 49, had told Melissa St. Vil, now 27, to get out. The disagreement got physical. Police officers said they saw the former 130- and 140-pound titleholder choking St. Vil.
She was taken to a local hospital, treated and released. Mayweather, who had a lamp broken over his head and injuries to his head and face, was arrested.
7. The UFC’s parent company has sued video streaming website Justin.tv for illegal online broadcasts of its pay-per-views, alleging that the website has continually failed to keep such piracy from happening.
More than 50,000 people tuned into more than 200 streams on the website to watch the UFC 121 pay-per-view in October featuring Brock Lesnar against Cain Velazquez, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, those of us who watched the Jan. 22 streams of the Evander Holyfield-Sherman Williams pay-per-view are wishing someone would sue those websites – if only so we wouldn’t be able to sit through such crap again without picking up our credit cards and thinking about the decision.
We might not have paid for the Holyfield-Williams pay-per-view literally, but we sure as heck paid for it figuratively.
8. “That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss.” ~Joe Buck, “ NFL on Fox,” Jan. 9, 2005, after Randy Moss scored a touchdown and then pretended to moon the Green Bay Packers fans.
“I think the kiss on the cheek is classless … I don’t think there’s a place for it … [It] was disrespectful to a beaten opponent.” ~Brian Kenny, “Friday Night Fights,” Jan. 28, 2011, after Chris Arreola scored a technical knockout over Joey Abell and then planted a kiss on Abell’s face:
9. What is it about cheeks that causes such outrage?
10. So, Bradley-Alexander took place under the auspices of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission.
Are you wondering what bouts take place under the state’s Armed Combat Commission?
Only those matches involving shot fighters…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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