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Redemption At Stake For Alexander, Matthysse And HBO

By Jake Donovan

Bernard Hopkins UD12 Jean Pascal.

Two full fight cards have since aired on HBO. But Hopkins’ historic championship win one month ago was the last competitive fight – on paper and in reality – to air on a network once widely identified as the face of boxing.

Ironic, considering that any fight featuring Hopkins in recent years hardly wreaks of entertainment or action, yet his capturing the light heavyweight crown at age 46 has been the only HBO event worth talking about in the past two months and change.

It’s unfair to claim that HBO still isn’t the industry leader. But it’s also unfair to say that what they’ve offered hasn’t been far short of their own compromised standards. Even more of a disservice would be to pretend that Showtime hasn’t rapidly narrowed the gap and is on the verge of surpassing them.

Lucky for HBO, this weekend’s tripleheader from the greater St. Louis area stands a great chance of reversing what has become an ugly trend.

The junior welterweight crossroads bout between Devon Alexander and Lucas Matthysse tops a card that serves as the first of two shots for HBO (Saturday, 9:45PM) to remind people what they’re capable of before the next Showtime-televised boxing event airs and adds to its already stellar year.

Then again, they’ve already had two tries this month and came up empty. The hope is that they don’t head into next weekend’s blockbuster showdown between lineal heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko and brash titlist David Haye worrying that their last three shows fell way short on delivery.

The ratings will most likely suggest that the people were given what they wanted. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. made his network debut earlier this month. The event produced the highest rating for a Boxing After Dark telecast since 2007, with 1.5 million viewers tuning in for his manufactured alphabet title win over Sebastian Zbik.

Still being tabulated as this is published are the numbers for last weekend’s showcase in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Saul Alvarez won in a walkover against Ryan Rhodes.

Alvarez made his HBO Boxing After Dark in March, posting similar ratings to that of Chavez Jr as he had his way with Matthew Hatton in a bout that also netted him a similarly manufactured title.  It stands to reason that the wildly popular 20-year young Mexican once again brought in the living room crowd, as his fights produce chart-topping numbers whether it’ s on American or Mexican airwaves.

But when ratings are the only thing to talk about on nights when boxing should be the main – if not only – focal point, then you know that what you’re producing doesn’t go any further than the numbers.

For the month of June, HBO has given its viewing public nothing to talk about – except its ratings.

There stands a great chance that total viewership won’t be the main conversation piece when Alexander returns to the ring for the first time since suffering the lone loss of his career earlier this year. The St. Louis native is a favorable draw in his backyard, but still only known on the cult level.

Not doing himself any favors was his subpar showing against Tim Bradley in a battle of unbeaten 140 lb. titlists when they met this past January. The bout was demanded by many within the industry, but fell far short of expectations at the box office and especially in the ring.

A large portion of the blame was placed on Alexander, who offered his weakest performance to date, looking out of sorts as he struggled to get going in a technical decision loss to Bradley. The bout littered with accidental fouls and clinching and far too short on sustained action, not to mention its anticlimactic ending when a final headbutt left Alexander dazed and his vision compromised.

The glass half-full view was that it put the fans out of its collective misery, as the fight proved to be an epic bust on every level.  That is, of course, unless you’re the guy with a clause in his contract stipulating a guaranteed return date and a two-comma payday to go along with it.

It could be argued that Alexander had nothing to lose that evening, although what he did lose was his title, undefeated and – from many in the industry – respect and recognition as one of the game’s best.

The beauty of taking a risk in the heart of your prime is that there is plenty of time to bounce back. Alexander’s performance that evening warranted the criticism that came with, but he returns this weekend ready to face yet another Top 10 junior welterweight and hardly with the guarantee of walking away victorious.

For the first time in more than a month, HBO has something other than a pure showcase bout to offer – even though the date was initially designed as a showcase opportunity.

But staring down the hard-hitting Matthysse in the opposite corner is anything but a walk in the park. Just ask Zab Judah, who went life and death with the Argentinean last November yet had his way with Kaizer Mabuza in an alphabet title winning effort just four months later.

The night marked the lone loss on Matthysse’s record, though his stock skyrockets. He also didn’t dwell on it very long, returning 2 ½ months later to floor Demarcus Corley nine times en route to an eighth-round mercy stoppage in their Telefutura-televised bout.

However, coming back strong against a faded veteran is not concrete proof that you can hold your own against any junior welterweight on the planet.

Matthysse’s near-miss against Judah – albeit in a bout many argued should have went his way – remains the standout moment of his career to date. Wins over aged former champs like Corley and Vivian Harris suggest hints of talent, but in need of further validation if he is to be regarded as more than a gatekeeper.

Of course, it can just as easily be argued that stoppage wins over Junior Witter and Juan Urango do not a career make.

Needless to say, both Alexander and Matthysse can stand to add another notable name to their respective resumes if either of them are to convince the boxing world than they are capable of so much more than what they’ve had to offer the last time they were spotted on HBO’s airwaves.

With this main event and the promise of all action in its televised co-feature between Tavoris Cloud and Yusaf Mack, HBO gives itself the chance to prove that it’s capable of so much more than what it has had to offer the last few times that boxing has been spotted on its airwaves.

Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]
User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by badass316 on 06-22-2011

Hope Matthysse sparks that POS quitter out.

Comment by emhoffk on 06-22-2011

Jake - I think you're definitely being too hard on HBO. Yeah the Chavez, Jr. and two Alvarez fights this year have been more showcase than crossroads. But besides Pascal-Hopkins II they've also given us Montiel-Donaire; Morales-Maidana; and Berto-Ortiz -…

Comment by CommanderVander on 06-22-2011

[QUOTE=JakeNDaBox;10727394]But Hopkins’ historic championship win one month ago was the last competitive fight – on paper and in reality – to air on a network once widely identified as the face of boxing. [/QUOTE] Most people expected Chavez-Zbik to be…

Comment by chiguy91 on 06-22-2011

hbo isn't close to being surpassed by showtime imo. with that said, this fight and its undercards should bring some exciting moments, really looking forward to it. hope matthysse gets the KO win!

Comment by Jack Napier on 06-22-2011

screw Alexander the Twat really hope he loses and fades from view would like to see Matthysse-Zab 2 at some point

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