By Thomas Gerbasi
Anyone who has ever talked to IBF welterweight champion Randall Bailey over the years will probably come up with the same conclusion: nice guy, but he’s no Bernard Hopkins. Then again, when was the last time you saw “The Executioner” lay out an opponent with a single punch and have the potential to do so in every fight?
So on an October 20 card jam-packed with compelling matchups that will make you scoff at anyone who says that the sweet science is dead, Bailey’s title defense against Devon Alexander at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York is one of the most interesting. It’s the classic boxer vs. puncher matchup, but with a twist, as Bailey might as well be described as an ultra-puncher, because when he lands with his right hand, people react in funny ways.
Not ha-ha funny, but marionette getting its strings cut funny. And the way he described it on a media teleconference, it’s something he considers a gift that keeps on giving.
“I think the power I was born with,” said the native of Opa-Locka, Florida. “I've been throwing my right hand since I was like 15, 16 years old, and I mean diligently practicing on it since then. It's like whenever I felt it, you're going to get hit with it. I don't care what you do; you're going to get hit with it. It's just what you're going to do after you get hit with it.”
Most people fall down. The latest victim was unbeaten highly-touted Mike Jones, who got a preview of things to come in the 10th round of their June title fight when a right hand sent him sprawling backward to the seat of his pants for the first time in his career. The next round, he was finished in the 11th by another right to the jaw. It was a dismal, nearly action-less bout up until the end, but what an end it was.
“I know it's always there, but when I'm moving in the ring I'm lining these guys up for that punch,” said Bailey, who trailed by four, six, and eight points on the judges’ scorecards when he turned the tables. “It just it took a little longer for Mike Jones.”
At 37 years old, Bailey was a world champion again. He had been to the mountaintop before, winning the WBO junior welterweight crown in 1999 and the interim WBA belt at 140 pounds in 2002. As a little reference point, consider that in 2002 Alexander hadn’t even turned pro. But while Bailey had earned a modicum of respect for his punching power, workmanlike attitude in the ring, and his heart (he joked that “People think I showed a lot of heart in getting hit a lot. That's just how boxing is,” following his title losing effort to Ener Julio in 2000), the big fights with the likes of Kostya Tszyu and Zab Judah always seemed to elude him.
It didn’t help that he wound up settling into a seven fight pattern of ‘win one, lose one’ from 2002-2004 that ended with a sixth round TKO defeat at the hands of WBO junior welterweight champion Miguel Cotto in December of 2004. Though only 30 years old, Bailey had a lot of fistic mileage on him, and most wrote him off.
Yet beginning with a shutout 2005 win over journeyman Roberto Ortega, began fighting more regularly and getting his mojo back. He went 5-0 in 2006 over veteran B-level competition, lost a hard-fought split decision to Herman Ngoudjo in June of 2007, snapping a seven fight win streak, but he bounced back in 2008-09 with knockout victories over Anthony Mora, Dairo Esalas, and Francisco Figueroa. A TKO loss in an IBF junior welterweight title fight against Juan Urango in 2009 signaled the end to his stay at 140 pounds, but a five fight unbeaten run at welterweight earned him a shot at the vacant crown against Jones. And though he was losing throughout, he never lost hope in what was probably his last major title opportunity.
“I knew I was behind in the fight,” said Bailey, now 38. “I knew I'd win the fight, but he gave me a half a door open and that's all I needed. He left me a half a door and that's all I need to get it in.”
With that single right hand, he resurrected his career, one that he believes still has plenty of mileage in it.
“I've never really abused my body,” he said. “I never train light, so no problem because I'm always training hard in the gym. I'm just a laid back kind of guy. I never really get too excited about too many things, but I'm just laid back. I don't really party a lot. I go to a couple of fights here and there, and most of the time I'm just at home chilling.”
He is 38 though, and a back injury recently pushed this bout from September 8 to October 20, prompting questions about his longevity in the hardest game. But he insists that the injury was just a minor hiccup.
“It just required a lot of rest,” Bailey said of the injury. “I had to sit out and just take the medicine that they had prescribed for me and just relax for a couple of weeks.”
Now he’s back, but looking to send Bailey back home to Miami will be the 25-year old Alexander, who is coming off consecutive wins over Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana, two pretty fair punchers in their own right, but the victories couldn’t have been more different. Against Matthysse at 140 pounds in June of 2011, Alexander was dropped in the fourth round and had some favorable home state judging in eking out the split decision win. But in his welterweight debut against Maidana in February, the talented and lightning-fast St. Louis native was firing on all cylinders en route to a near shutout decision. If that’s the Alexander that Bailey has to look out for this weekend, it might be a long night for the incumbent. Not that he’s too concerned.
“It doesn't matter how fast Devon is, he gets hit,” said Bailey matter of factly. “He gets hit with right hands constantly. Everybody he's fought has hit him with right hands so if he thinks he's going to come into this fight and I'm not going to hit him, please. If he had them hit him, trust me I'm going to hit him.”
If he lands, well, you know what usually happens next. But catching Alexander may be an issue, especially if Bailey fights like he did against Jones. And if Bailey does get in tight on the challenger, Alexander is likely to hold, regroup, and get back to boxing. As for the possibility of eating that right hand, you know that Alexander’s longtime trainer, the loquacious Kevin Cunningham, has an answer for that.
“Randall's problem is all he has is the right hand,” said Cunningham. “That's going to be a
problem in this fight because he's going to need more than one hand and one arm in this fight, and when he gets in the ring with Devon he's going to find out if he throws the right hand he's going to pay for it every time he throws it. So he isn't going to be trying to get it off like he thinks he is.”
Bailey disagrees, and with the confidence of a champion, he’s ready to defend what’s his.
“What they don't understand is if he comes forward in the whole fight, if he moves I'm going to cut him off and we're going to fight,” he said. “So he can talk about me being ready, he better be ready. I'm ready to go to war. That's what I come for. I'm not coming to the fight for nothing easy.”
It never has been for Bailey…at least until he lands his right hand.