By Jake Donovan
Devon Alexander has officially reached that point.
It’s the point when potential eventually gives way to results, and the results for his last three fights highly suggest that the man dubbed Alexander is the Great, is simply just a good, perhaps very good fighter struggling to transition to the next level.
For the third straight fight, the former junior welterweight titlist struggled to impress his critics – or even his fans – by the time the final bell sounded. The latest episode came Saturday evening in St. Charles, Missouri, as Alexander rode an early lead and overcame the first knockdown of his professional career to barely outpoint Lucas Matthysse.
Scores were 96-93 each way and 95-94 for Alexander in a crossroads battle of junior welterweights looking to reenter the title picture.
Unlike his disappointing showing against Tim Bradley earlier this year, Alexander made sure to come prepared to fight from the opening bell. The St. Louis native jumped out to an early lead, banking the first three rounds on the strength of ring generalship, boxing smartly while Matthysse came out in his usual heat-seeking mode, searching for the knockout and thus missing often and wildly.
Then came the fourth round.
Matthysse spent virtually the entire night fighting like a man who knew he had no chance in hell of taking a decision in his opponent’s backyard. It was a lesson he learned the hard way last fall, landing on the wrong end of a controversial split decision to Zab Judah in New Jersey.
The brick-handed Argentinean was determined to not allow history to repeat itself. He took advantage of an early slip up by Alexander, countering with a hook to floor the former titlist for the first time in his still young career. Alexander handled the moment well, shaking it off and returning to fight well in that and take the next couple of rounds purely on boxing alone.
Even with the knockdown, Matthysse needed to sweep the final four rounds in order to leave Missouri with a decision. He came pretty damn close, battering Alexander in the seventh round and continuing the assault in the eighth.
The difference in the two rounds was Alexander biting down and exuding a willingness to take the pain in order to adjust his own game plan. The strategy worked perfectly, as he was must sharper in the ninth round, his best since early in the fight.
As the evening would eventually reveal, it was at this moment in which the fight was mathematically over.
Of course, nothing is over when you face a fighter with an equalizer like Matthysse, a lesson Alexander was reminded of in getting outfought in the 10th and final round, although not a heck of a lot landed.
As expected, it was enough to make it a close fight, but never to where the outcome was in doubt.
Alexander’s record moves to 22-1 (13KO), although to say he’s improved would be incorrect.
"He was a good fighter. He was as good fighter. I take nothing from him. He pressured me like crazy. But I was in shape. I was in Colorado and running at altitude. [The knockdown] was a flash. I wasn't hurt. I wasn't hurt at all, so it was a flash knockdown. You know, I got back up. It happens," Alexander said.
"I wanted to show people that I'm a warrior. People say that I quit in the Bradley fight. I wanted to come back and show them that I've got heart. And I am one of the best at 140 pounds."
Alexander's trainer and manager, Kevin Cunningham, was very nervous as his boxer was taking some very big punches from a very big puncher.
Cunningham: “I didn’t enjoy watching a rugged, tough guy like Matthysse in there with my fighter. I knew it was gonna be tough. I didn’t want to see my fighter trading with a puncher like Matthysse, but because of all the criticism he took after the Bradley fight, he felt he had something to prove in his hometown. I think when Devon reviews the tape of the fight, he’ll see that he was at his most effective when he was using his boxing skills to the fullest.”
Matthysse on the other hand felt he was robbed for the second time in his career.
"It was a tough fight, but I think that I won it. I won it but once again, they robbed me here in the United States. Look at my face and look at his face. I thought that when I put him down in the fourth round, that I would finish him off but I couldn't."
Matthysse hits hard times, losing for the second time in three fights, both by close and debatable decisions in his opponent’s backyard. His record falls to 28-2 (26KO).
For Alexander, no longer are the viewpoints coming from the standpoint of what your early potential has shown what you are capable of on the field. For the third straight game, he has struggled to win over his critics in delivering a series of mediocre performances.
This bout was his first since falling short against Bradley earlier this year. Things began rough in their title unification match and ended on an anti-climactic note when an inadvertent headbutt ended everyone’s evening. The sequence came as Alexander barely hit his stride, although at no point seemed to be likely to win the fight
There was more involved in the series of games before that, when many felt Alexander was lucky to escape his hometown with a win over Andriy Kotelnik.
In all three fights, a case could be made that his opponent deserved to win. In none of the three fights did he manage to advance from the momentum gained in knocking out Juan Urango in a bout that helped jump start the unofficial junior welterweight series on HBO last year.
Nevertheless, he remains one of best in the world in his division and needs to start properly playing the role rather than accept it by default.
Also on the show, Tavoris Cloud fought for the first time in 2011, scoring an eight-round stoppage over Yusaf Mack in their light heavyweight title bout.
Fireworks were expected in the co-feature but portions of it surprisingly turned out to be a dud. Mack elected to box against the heat seeking Cloud, a strategy that proved to be effective in terms of winning rounds, but seemed to prolong the inevitable, which was Cloud eventually finding Mack’s weak whiskers.
It all came to a boiling point in the eighth round, when Cloud battered his challenger around the ring before violently sending him to the canvas. Mack made it to his feet but was in no condition to continue, with the bout being waved off on the spot.
The official time was 2:57 of the eighth round.
It is just the second fight for Cloud since winning his alphabet belt last August. He improves to 23-0 (19KO) and is seeking a showdown with former lineal light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, who was in attendance.
Mack, meanwhile, will have to get back in line before being moved towards another title shot. The Philly native stumbles to 29-4-2 (17KO), with all four losses coming via stoppage.
Both bouts aired live on HBO’s Boxing After Dark series.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .