For the last month and a half of boxing, the pattern has gone desert/oasis/desert/oasis, and that’s going to continue until mid-September. Fortunately, though, Saturday on Showtime we’re getting the next little slice of oasis. Four top junior welterweights — two young and hungry, two veteran and crafty — are going to bring some much-needed relief from the oppressive desert heat of the summer doldrums.
In both match-ups — Timothy Bradley-Nate Campbell, Devon Alexander-Junior Witter — the youngsters are the betting favorites. Bradley’s at better than 3-1 to win, and Alexander’s at nearly 2-1 to win. In each scrap, the younger man has the edge in speed and, well, youth, so I’m not surprised to see them as favorites. But both of the old dudes know how to fight, and they’re far more proven commodities against better competition, for better and for worse.
It’s hard to say what Alexander-Witter will play out like because Alexander’s taking a real step up in class, although he is regarded by many as one of the elite American prospects in the sport. Bradley’s already stepped up, and he passed all three of his recent tests with indicators that he could develop into a nice little star, so his bout is easier to envision. I think there’s a solid chance we end up with a thirst-quenching pair of closely-contested, skillfully-fought competitions, if not the kind of battles that will keep us from getting parched again before we hit another palm tree/cool pond combo.
Ahhhh. That looks as refreshing as Bradley-Campbell and Alexander-Witter.
DEVON ALEXANDER – JUNIOR WITTER
Count me as a member of the Dan Rafael Devon Alexander Fan Club. I like the kid’s skills and his speed. I like his drive. He may not punch all that hard, but he hits hard enough, and he’s offensive-minded. The only boring fight I’ve seen him in were the fault of the other guy more than anything. At 22, he’s really taking a huge leap up in class by going at Witter, who’s the #3 man in the division according to Ring magazine’s rankings.
It just so happens that his last fight was his boringest. Nor did he look particularly sharp. One of his assets is that he punches the body HARD. He really commits. But he didn’t throw many body punches against his opponent, Jesus Rodriguez. Rodriguez, as I alluded to, was the one to blame for most of it. He was a very reluctant opponent in there, uncharacteristically. What’s worrisome for Alexander in this Witter fight is that some might consider Rodriguez, basically a journeyman (albeit a usually tough one), his best opponent. Otherwise, who is it — a faded DeMarcus Corley, who was in the midst of having lost four of his last six? Corley has rebounded some since, but he wasn’t looking like him old self there for a while. Alexander has looked like the goods, but against competition that makes it easier for one to look like the goods.
Of course, you could say the same thing of Bradley before he got a hold of Witter in 2008. Bradley hadn’t fought much of anyone, and he beat Witter in part with healthy doses of speed and youth. Witter didn’t look tremendous that night, and he says he was not himself because he was worried about his father who was sick with cancer. As in the lead-up to the Bradley bout when Witter was preoccupied with Ricky Hatton, all Witter is talking about now is the next British star he wants to beat, Amir Khan. Witter is 35, older than he was then, and while he knocked out his last opponent with ease, that’s what he was there for — the knockout-getting. The parallels are surely why Witter isn’t the betting favorite.
But I’m kind of surprised. I thought Witter would be said favorite. He’s a difficult opponent who fights in an awkward style, prone as he is to switching from orthodox to southpaw, and does have knockout power. Alexander hasn’t fought anyone who punches like Witter, or who is as good as him in just about any way. Witter is good defensively when he decides to be, which is anytime he doesn’t showboat by dangling both his hands low. He says he’s focused because he knows he may not get another title shot if he loses against Alexander. He, too, beat Corley, if less decisively than Alexander did, but toward the beginning of Corley’s losing tailspin instead of the end like Alexander.
Witter is hard-headed in that he stubbornly does things his way and keeps chasing the British star of the moment; Alexander is hard-headed in that he has been pushing for a big fight even at the expense of criticizing his own promoter, Don King, and maybe before he’s ready. I’m of the mind that Witter has begun his downward slide. I thought he looked slower in his last fight than ever, with the caveat that he was fighting at welterweight as a possible excuse. It’s just that it’s two fights in a row where Witter didn’t impress me as being his old self, and really, some of his best recent wins may look more impressive than they actually were (Vivian Harris was probably already shot, for instance). If Alexander’s chin holds up, I expect him to outwork and out-quick his elder. I’m opting to believe that Alexander, with his hard-headedness, finds a way to keep his chin safe for the most part and holds up to what does land. Alexander by decision. How will it play out? Dunno. Just basing it on the basic dynamic.
TIMOTHY BRADLEY – NATE CAMPBELL
Really, I’m about the only person left who’s even remotely skeptical of Bradley at this point, but I am, and I keep paying for it. It’s not that he hasn’t won me over to a large degree. It’s just that I’m not all the way won over. I will say this: If I was making a Gritty List for boxing, I’d definitely put him on it. And, actually, I’d put Campbell on the same list.
Overall, from a talent standpoint, Kendall Holt struck me as the better boxer of the two when he met Bradley in Bradley’s last fight. He was faster and hit harder. The real difference in the fight was that Bradley was too tough. Bradley almost got wrecked early in the fight, and a wussier fighter might not have gotten up from that knockdown. Bradley found a way. And once he got up, he stayed on Holt’s ass, making him uncomfortable, sometimes with pressure and sometimes with head butts.
Campbell is probably just as hard-headed as Bradley, though. In his best win, dude decided he was going to bang with Juan Diaz and trade punches at the same unbelievable rate or higher that Diaz usually brings. It worked. His toughness was too much for Diaz. In Campbell’s most recent fight, he was over the lightweight limit against Ali Funeka and looked drained from trying to get down to 135 after a few rounds. A late knockdown of Funeka probably saved the fight for him as he dug deep to finish strong on the scorecards.
These are two very, very hard-headed men. Both bounce back well from difficulty, both don’t enjoy backing up, and both will foul you whatever way they think is necessary to win. So how do things stack up otherwise? I give the better chin to Campbell, whom I’ve not seen hurt in a fight since he rehabbed his career from a very stupid mistake and a rematch KO loss against a guy who apparently had his number — Robbie Peden. Bradley I have, a few times. Punching power again goes to Campbell. Speed is all Bradley’s. Defense is probably about even. Versatility is probably about even. Overall technique goes to Campbell, since Bradley gets a little loose at times. Age is an advantage for Bradley, but then, Campbell is a very well-preserved 37 to Bradley’s 25, and Campbell used Diaz’ young man’s game against him. The fight’s on Bradley’s home turf in California, so that’s another advantage. The wild card in some of this is whether Campbell’s chin and power is hurt by the move up, and I say it won’t be, because Campbell was a big lightweight.
Bradley probably won’t be able to out-tough Campbell, if it comes down to it, so here once again I like the better overall fighter of the two. Campbell is going to punch straighter, is going to hit harder and isn’t going to get outhustled. I was wrong about Holt; he had deficiencies I thought he could overcome. I don’t think I’m wrong about Campbell. I like Campbell to win by gritty, dirty, closely contested decision.