By Jake Donovan
The Monday morning quarterback – every sport has them, though perhaps there would be little to debate without them.
No matter what decisions are made, it seems that there is a crowd who will second-guess those very choices, or at least the ones that didn’t quite pan out.
There was certainly no shortage of second guessing in the wake of last weekend’s alphabet unification bout between Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander. Many questioned the location; several took issue with the financial investment, while some simply wondered aloud why the fight even happened at all.
Anything is easier to question in retrospect, and the fight itself provided plenty of fuel for the naysayers who sought any reason to take fault with the matchup.
The atmosphere was dismal. Neither fighter seemed to have an on-site following. The fight itself provided very few thrills and chills and we weren’t even afforded so much as a conclusive ending.
But none of that means the fight was completely unnecessary.
The foundation for last weekend’s bout was laid nearly 18 months ago. Both fighters appeared on the same Showtime card in separate bouts. Bradley was set to square off against Nate Campbell, while Alexander was slotted in the co-feature against former titlist Junior Witter.
Prior to the fight, Alexander insisted that Bradley was avoiding him. The claim came after Bradley gave up one of his alphabet titles, electing to face Campbell rather than Alexander, who was his mandatory challenger at the time.
The working theory on the side of Team Bradley was that there would be greater value in a showdown with Alexander somewhere down the line, when both fighters were more established – and hopefully still with titles and undefeated records in tow.
Team Bradley turned out to get that one right, despite post-fight suggestions in some circles that the fight should’ve stayed in the pot and marinated a little longer.
The question – for those who would think to ask it when hearing such a claim – should’ve been, just how long should have the sport waited before these two faced each other?
Alexander established himself as a hometown attraction in St. Louis when more than 9,000 fans filed into the Scottrade Center for his title defense against Andriy Kotelnik last August.
The homecoming came on the heels of his title-unifying knockout win over Juan Urango five months prior, the one ending very few expected in that fight and effectively sending Alexander’s stock through the roof.
However, the Kotelnik fight helped deflate that balloon. Alexander escaped with a unanimous decision that was called into question by many fans, as well as the HBO Boxing After Dark broadcast team working the bout that evening.
Not exactly the best way to hype up a future showdown with your biggest divisional rival.
Then again, neither was Bradley’s welterweight fight with previously unbeaten Luis Carlos Abregu two weeks prior to Alexander’s close call. Bradley won his fight far more convincingly, though in a fight that – while not boring – wasn’t exactly one for the time capsule.
Between that and the take-the-money-and-run approach that promoters Don King and Gary Shaw employed when it came to this event, there’s little to argue against the theory that the event billed “The Super Fight” was anything but – not in status or in result.
But here’s a newsflash to those who wondered why it was taking place now – it wasn’t going to become any bigger than it already was prior to Saturday night.
Bradley continues to win, has been a TV regular for the past four years and even enjoyed a career year in 2009, yet still hasn’t grown into a ticket seller or even developed a following beyond the ballroom level.
Alexander managed to bring the crowd in his previous fight, but was already showing signs of vulnerability in each of his HBO-televised appearances last year.
Sure, his promoter (King) could’ve taken a screw-the-pooch approach and sought the type of opposition that would’ve boosted his fighter’s confidence while his skills further develop.
But the question you then ask is, what happens if HBO first put together Bradley and Amir Khan? Where would have that left Alexander, specifically from a financial perspective?
For this bout, each fighter cleared a similar seven-figure purse, and is also promised a future date on HBO. There also existed the option for the network to pick up the rematch, though one that HBO has wisely passed on, at least for the moment.
Had Bradley and Khan fought before Alexander had a crack at either, the St. Louis native would’ve been forced to take short money and in a fight where he’d be facing the man who would be most likely regarded as the consensus pick as the best junior welterweight in the world.
Considering the pieces that were already in place in HBO’s unofficial 140 lb. tournament, the next order of progression was Bradley-Alexander.
The network had already featured Alexander in bouts with Urango and Kotelnik. Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana also fought twice on HBO in 2010, including their 12-round epic war that earned Fight of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Bradley was the exception of the bunch, as his lone fight of 2010 took place at welterweight against Abregu. Still, his overall body of work was enough to regard the American as the world’s top rated junior welterweight, though with the likes of Khan, Alexander and even Maidana waiting in the wings.
There reached a point, where the aforementioned quartet clearly represented the Final Four of the junior welterweight division. That Bradley-Alexander was already signed and sealed only brought that much greater anticipation to Khan-Maidana, with the hopes that the winners – and perhaps even the losers - would eventually face each other.
From the moment HBO said ‘No thanks’ to a Bradley-Alexander rematch, the writing was already on the wall for a future showdown between Bradley and Khan – and that was even before the network openly admitted to pursuing such a matchup for this summer (July 30 is the targeted date).
Should that fight materialize by summer’s end and crown a winner – and lineal champion, in the process - then HBO will have successfully pieced together a series of 140 lb. matchups that brought forth a conclusive ending inside of 18 months.
Sometimes, anticipation and buildup can help transform a fight into an event. There are even some fights that deserve such buildup, rather than its participants meeting too soon and for too little.
Then there are occasions where some fights simply have to happen at the time its being offered, just because it’s a fight that makes sense for the sake of progression – for the fighters and for the sport.
At no point was a fight between Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander ever going to break box office records. It was never going to be that fight that left boxing fans talking for weeks, or even one that was going to bring new fans to the sport.
It’s a fight that was crucial to the continued shaping of the 140 lb. division.
It may have landed in the wrong venue. It may have been tough to watch, and disappointing in the way it ended.
None of that changes the fact that it’s still a fight that had to happen, and at the time it was offered.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]