It wasn’t exciting. It ended in as disappointing a fashion as it could. Few people paid to watch it in person, HBO probably overpaid for the bout and it wasn’t promoted well. But lest we get the idea that Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander shouldn’t have happened Saturday on HBO, let’s contemplate the alternatives.
HBO could’ve ignored two of the most promising young fighters in the United States. It could’ve refused to air a bout between two of the four best men in one of the most stacked division in the sport. It could’ve just let the division, and American boxing, twist in the wind.
My brother asked me the other day, “Who’s the best white American boxer?” I had to think about it long and hard. The best I could come up with was deposed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, who recently spent some time in rehab. But it also made me think about who’s the best American boxer overall. And that came up with some guys who, like Alexander and Bradley, are talented and proven but aren’t terribly thrilling to watch at times (Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward), unless you count foreign-born boxers who moved to America, like Abner Mares or Nonito Donaire. Juan Manuel Lopez, maybe, if you expand the search beyond the states to the territories.
You can come away with another conclusion, then, from Saturday’s fight: That America still produces good boxers, but very few action stars.
The action between Bradley and Alexander Saturday was mild, and what action there was ended up being frustrating. Alexander appeared reluctant to engage, and his excess of caution was largely to blame for the minimal exchanges, although Bradley’s crafty and incessant head movement also had a lot to do with that. There will be valid questions about whether Alexander begged out of the fight by refusing to open his eyes at the doctor’s command in the 10th, or whether, as the doctor himself asserted, he might have suffered potential nerve damage. We’d be wise to await additional word before concluding anything.
And then there was Bradley’s head movement of another kind. Bradley is the sport’s predominant practitioner of head butts. It is infuriating. He can act all he wants like Alexander was moving in on the final head butt, but Bradley almost seemed to wait for the moment to move in afterward and land that head butt. Bradley may have been the one landing the more telling blows and he might have been the one initiating what action there was, but that every. single. one. of his fights features him smashing his battering ram of a noggin into his opponent makes him ugly to watch and diminishes his accomplishments.
If you are deeply saddened that two of America’s best hopes coming into this fight were A. cautious to a fault at best or afraid of contact at worst and B. a living, breathing, 24/7 foul machine, well then, you’d be entitled. If you think this fight between boxers from Missouri and California shouldn’t have been held in Pontiac, Michigan, you’re also on fair ground. If you think HBO overpaid for the bout and a potential rematch, that’s a fair assessment of HBO’s historical tendencies. If you have gripes about Gary Shaw and Don King sitting on their asses rather than trying to generate a real live audience, there is plenty of evidence in the remarks of both promoters. If you expected this fight might not produce much action, you had good reason. If you don’t want to see a rematch, as much as Alexander wants one, you’re probably like 99 out of 100 boxing fans.
But this bout had to happen, unless you think HBO should be spending all its money airing Tomasz Adamek-Kevin McBride — a more entertaining spectacle on paper, sure, but 100 percent meaningless — as some might have it. Sometimes, excitement doesn’t transpire between the ropes or in the stands. Sometimes, the excitement is in the mere idea of two of the best fighters there are meeting in the ring, and those kind of fights need to come to fruition, too.