By Lyle Fitzsimmons
OK, folks, raise a virtual hand if you’ve been there.
After months of breathless anticipation, the big night finally arrives.
The venue is secured. The atmosphere is constructed. The mood is perfected.
In some cases, the money has even changed hands.
But on the morning after, you’re left to re-live pedestrian loops of missionary in place of the riotous soft-core highlights you’d planned for.
In the end, it makes for an unsatisfying walk of shame, without even the tawdry taste of conquest.
And in terms of boxing, it’s the same feeling many gleaned from a ho-hum Saturday in Michigan.
There in the Silverdome-pocked city of Pontiac, a fight prematurely branded as “classic in the making” wound up far too similar to the run-of-the-mill dreck available every weekend in a local ballroom.
Over nine-plus rounds of inglorious combat between America’s two best 140-pounders, few things were proven more certainly than 1) TV’s ability to make an empty lot look full; 2) Don King’s unchallenged status as the game’s most egregious promoter; and 3) Amir Khan’s emergence as the genuine man to beat in the division between Pacquiao and Marquez.
Regardless of who attempted more punches and landed more shots – or whether Devon Alexander could have actually continued after the last of Tim Bradley’s patented “left-right-skull” combos in the 10th – none of what else transpired in the ring approached what the once-beaten 24-year-old U.K. native would surely deliver if matched with either pretender.
Toward that end, British-based color man Jim Watt – whose Scottish brogue was among the few things that made Saturday’s Sky Sports stream worth enduring on a balky Internet connection – was quick to question the reluctant Alexander’s real motive for not enduring until the final bell.
“He seems happy to go home with an excuse if he lost,” the former four-defense lightweight champ said before the cards were read, “and two belts if he won.”
We should all have been so blessed with an early exit strategy.
Following Watt from 3,500 or so miles across the Atlantic, the man who entered the night as a forgotten WBA imposter to Alexander and Bradley’s breathless WBC/WBO billing contentedly sat back as his laurels were magically transformed to the quarry of choice for truly upwardly mobile junior welters.
“I think we’d have a good chance to get a win,” Khan said, when queried in-studio on the post-fight broadcast. “I hope it’s a fight we can make in the summertime this year.”
Fellow Brit Johnny Nelson, ex-WBO cruiserweight claimant who last fought in 2005, went his panel-mate one better in the opinion department while claiming Khan’s prospects were unfailingly good.
The two were commenting on a proposed unification sequel with Bradley, who escaped with Alexander’s lunch money after securing 97-93, 96-95 and 98-93 verdicts from the aborted bout – an anti-climax unsatisfyingly similar to the Williams/Cintron debacle HBO aired last summer in suburban Los Angeles and the Holyfield/Williams fiasco last weekend in West Virginia.
“It’s an easy fight for Amir,” Nelson said.
And even 48 hours later, it’s awfully hard not to agree.
My own card read 96-94 for the newly-minted two-belt champ – who forced the action, landed harder blows and seemed far more anxious to maintain an unbeaten slate than his ultimately unwilling fellow incumbent from St. Louis.
As it turns out, though, it’s a darn good thing he impressed so few while doing so.
Or we might have had to endure it all again.
Instead, Bradley’s performance was so bland that the lone real obstacle to a Khan date may have been removed if reports hold true that HBO has pulled back from the contracted right to force an immediate rematch between he and Alexander.
That leaves Khan as the most attractive and logical fish at 140, a pool Bradley seems without real choice but to swim in – in spite of repeated harangues that he’s a credible foil for Pacquiao at 147.
Keeping a Filipino showdown on the fantastical future shelf it belongs, it’s difficult enough to comprehend a short-term scenario where the tough but one-dimensional Californian does anything but lose big to a bigger, stronger and more skilled Khan.
The Englishman stands four inches taller at 5-foot-10, packs power that’s yielded six more KOs in three fewer wins, and owns edges in hand/foot speed that would allow him to complete the boxing job Alexander looked intermittently capable of starting while winning rounds 2, 5, 7 and 8.
In fact, if any of the current crop at 140 actually looks capable of making a weight leap, it’s Khan.
The physical edges over most in the current class would still render him viable at 147, while the intangible element of charisma makes him a big ticket for any promoter playing to the casual fan base.
Plus, lest we forget, the always-possible prospect of him being dusted in one round – as he was by then-unbeaten Colombian export Breidis Prescott in 2008 – make his fights must-see TV in the same way Lennox Lewis’s were while he dodged KO disasters after Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.
Mix it all together in a jam-packed Wembley and you’ve got yourself a tasty main event, whether the trunks in the opposite corner happen to spell Bradley, Marquez, Pacquiao or otherwise.
And if it again proves unworthy of afterglow, well… at least you won’t be stuck in Detroit.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC super flyweight title – Osaka, Japan
Tomas Rojas (champion) vs. Nobuo Nashiro (No. 7 contender)
Rojas (34-12-1, 23 KO): First title defense; Three-fight win streak since 2009 (3-0, 2 KO)
Nashiro (14-2-1, 9 KO): Eighth title fight (4-2-1, 2 KO); Twice held WBA title (2006-07, 2008-10)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown edge provides third championship coronation.” Nashiro by decision
Last week’s picks: 2-2
Overall picks record: 174-56 (75.6 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .