It took more than a year for Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander to come to terms on fighting each other. But now that their anticipated showdown is only two weeks away, the junior welterweight standouts agree on pretty much everything.
The undefeated titleholders agree that their fight on Jan. 29 in Pontiac, Mich., is the most-significant bout of their 6½-year pro careers.
They agree that the scheduled 12-round bout, which will be televised live on HBO, will be one of the best scraps of 2011 if not the fight of the year.
And, having been stripped of one of the two title belts each has won (unfairly in their minds), both young men agree that the politics of the sanctioning organizations is hurting boxing.
However, both Bradley and Alexander believe that their fight will be a much-needed shot in the arm for a struggling sport.
The only thing they don’t agree on is who will win.
“I think it’s going to be a very high-paced fight. We’re both fast, and Devon throws 80 to 100 punches a round,” Bradley (26-0, 11 knockouts) said during a recent conference call. “But I feel that I’m tougher. I’m going to keep saying that. He’s going to have to prove that he’s tougher than me.”
Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) believes that his volume punching will be too much for Bradley.
“Bradley’s got heart like me, but I see me taking over and winning every round,” the 23-year-old St. Louis native said. “No one can outwork me with the master game plan (trainer Kevin Cunningham and I) have.”
Alexander believed in his ability to defeat Bradley two years ago, when the World Boxing Council installed him as the mandatory contender for the WBC belt the 26-year-old Palm Springs, Calif., native won by out-pointing Junior Witter in England in May of 2008.
However, Alexander, only 21 and with 17 pro bouts under his belt at the time, was not on Bradley’s hit list. Bradley was hungry to prove himself against more-experienced and more-proven junior welterweight standouts, such as then-WBO beltholder Kendall Holt, who was willing to face him in a unification bout in early April of 2009 on Showtime.
In order to fight Holt without being stripped of his title, Bradley had to request an exemption from making his mandatory defense against Alexander. The WBC granted the exemption with the understanding that Bradley would not keep the WBO title if he won it and that his next bout would be against Alexander.
Bradley was OK with those stipulations at the time, but after getting up from two knockdowns to out-hustle and out-point Holt, he suddenly found himself mentioned as a possible opponent for the winner of the Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao showdown for the RING/undisputed title that took place in May of 2009. Other more-lucrative options than an Alexander fight, such as bouts with Paul Malignaggi, Zab Judah and Nate Campbell, also became available.
Bradley wound up fighting Campbell on Showtime in August of 2009, and Alexander took on Witter for the vacant WBC belt in the co-feature of that broadcast. The build up to an eventual showdown with Bradley began the moment Alexander stopped Witter to win the title.
Alexander strengthened his case as a worthy opponent by knocking out then-IBF titleholder Juan Urango in spectacular fashion in his very next bout last March.
However, he didn’t get to enjoy his second major title for very long. The IBF stripped Alexander of its belt in October for not facing its mandatory challenger, Kaiser Mabuza of South Africa. The IBF’s mandate, which was for Alexander to defend against Mabuza by Dec. 28, was given at a time when the tough negotiations for the Bradley fight were nearly finished.
Alexander was disappointed with the timing of the mandate and disillusioned with the IBF’s action.
“The thing with them (IBF) stripping me was crazy, it was ludicrous,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the purse bid (for an Alexander-Mabuza fight). I didn’t know anything about my mandatory. I worked my whole life to get to that title. It wasn’t right for them to take it away so soon after I won it.
“Why would I fight a guy named Mabuza that nobody knows when I can fight a Tim Bradley that everyone knows and get more money and more credit for beating him?”
It’s the same question that Bradley asked himself when the WBC tried to force him to face a then-unknown Alexander. The WBC’s decision to strip him soured Bradley on the Mexico city-based sanctioning organization to the point that he says he will refuse to accept their belt if he beats Alexander.
“I chose not to fight for the (WBC) belt, because I felt I was being disrespected (by them),” Bradley said. “I understand that you got to give everyone a chance to fight for the title, but it’s not the same for everybody else.”
Bradley believes that some WBC titleholders, such as heavyweight Vitali Klitschko and its newly crowned junior middleweight beltholder Manny Pacquiao, are given more time and leeway concerning their mandatory challenger obligations. It’s not hard to figure out why, he says.
“It’s about money,” Bradley said. “I won the WBC title before, and it felt great. They gave me the chance to win it, and I respect them for that. But they stripped me because I didn’t fight Alexander when they wanted me to. It was nothing against Alexander. He’s a great fighter, but he wasn’t known then, and I felt that he had to prove himself a little more, just like he said (about Mabuza). Why would I fight him when he was unknown, and I could fight a better known fighter for more money?
Bradley defends his decision to hold off on fighting Alexander until the talented southpaw established himself as one of the best fighters in the 140-pound division.
“This fight has been building up for about year, a year and a half,” he said. “I knew what I was doing, regardless of what some people thought, (including those who said) that I was running. Look at the magnitude of this fight after my holding out.”
Bradley doesn’t believe the sanctioning organizations have the best interest of the majority of fighters or the sport in mind when they make many of their decisions.
“We need somebody to oversee all of this,” he said, “because it’s not the same for everybody.”
Alexander wouldn’t go so far as to call for a national boxing commission during the conference call, as Bradley essentially did, but it’s clear that he doesn't think much of the alphabet titles.
“I have no control of what (the sanctioning organizations) are going to do,” Alexander said. “As long as I get in the ring and win fights, I’m going be recognized with or without the belts.”
Both Bradley, THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior welterweight, and Alexander, the magazine’s No. 3-rated 140-pound contender, believe the winner of their fight will be recognized as the undisputed best of their deep division.
They agree that more matchups between the top fighters in each division will help rehabilitate the image of professional boxing in the U.S., which has been damaged by the constant sanctioning organization shenanigans and the sport’s inability to produce the superstar showdowns — such as Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. — that the public demands.
“The state of boxing is at a low and it will be until you have great fights like this one,” Bradley said. “Fights like this one will bring the sport back, because you ain’t going to see Manny and Floyd fighting any time soon.
“This fight shows what kind of fighters we are. We are both young and in our primes and we’re fighting each other. You rarely see that. You rarely see two top American fighters fighting each other while they are still young. I feel I’m the best but I have to prove it.”
Alexander says that’s the way it should be, the way it used to be.
“This is like the old days, when the best were itching to fight each other,” he said. “In this day and age, that’s rare. These days (the top fighters) just want the easiest opponent for the most money. It’s hard to get the best to fight the best.”
Bradley and Alexander agree that the best facing the best is the only way the sport will develop new stars to replace the old ones.
“We’re going to be the new faces of boxing,” Bradley said. “All these guys in their 30s, they are on their way out.”
“Boxing definitely needs some new stars because you can see that all the guys on top are fading out,” he said.
Both fighters agree that the winner and the loser of their showdown will grow in stature because they believe the fight will be that good.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” Bradley said. “You can bet your life on it. I think it’s going to be fight of the year.”