For all six judges in Saturday night for HBO’s doubleheader, it was a 116-112 night. But for both fights, it was a 114-114 night for me.
Light heavyweights Tavoris Cloud and Glen Johnson produced the slugfest we expected, or a reasonable facsimile of it, but Cloud came out on top in a bout I scored a draw. Junior welterweights Devon Alexander and Andriy Kotelnik didn’t produce the landslide for Alexander we expected (except in the waking opium dream imaginings of HBO unofficial scorer Harold Lederman), but Alexander came out on top in a bout I scored a draw.
Cloud got a gut check that will serve him well in the future from gut check delivery specialist Johnson, while Johnson once more found himself on the wrong side of a close decision. You don’t get on the front page of The New York Times as a boxer like Alexander did Saturday morning unless there’s something extraordinary about you. But Alexander didn’t fight very well against an opponent who did him no such favors and instead opened him to valid questions about whether he is as elite as most (including myself) thought, or merely had a bad night against a pretty good fighter.
DEVON ALEXANDER-ANDRIY KOTELNIK
Because Alexander was understandably the focus of the evening — 10,000 fans in attendance (surely a fair number giveaways), a big St. Louis homecoming, the #2 junior welterweight in the world, Floyd Mayweather’s handpicked pound-for-pound heir, etc. — let’s start with what Alexander did wrong.
He had a terrible time finding range. All night long, he had trouble connecting with his jab. Defensively, his hands were down too often. Overall, he just looked like a tight, nervous boxer, as though all the attention had gotten to him. I said before the fight that Alexander is the hungriest young man in the game, but maybe there’s such a thing as being too hungry, if it’s going to tense him up like that. Trainer Kevin Cunningham, whom I usually love, wasn’t helping with Alexander’s clear case of nerves, barking at him “What’s wrong with you?” repeatedly and only once telling Alexander to calm down on camera. The sense out of Alexander’s corner was that he should have been boxing more and fighting less, but I thought the opposite — Alexander was at his best when he was coming forward, per the original game plan, because when he was circling, planting with combos and circling again, Kotelnik was catching him more than vice versa. And a time or two, Alexander’s chin showed some previously unrevealed weakness; not that he was ever badly hurt, mind you, but he had to tie up a few times to regain his head when he never should have against a light puncher like Kotelnik.
All of this was exacerbated by Kotelnik, the huge betting underdog. Number three junior welter Ami Khan beat Kotelnik with ease one year ago, the first time a top-10 140-pounder was in anything other than a close fight with the Ukranian, win, lose or draw. Clearly, the Khan fight was the exception, not the rule. Kotelnik isn’t fast or powerful, but he has a gift for timing. His jab was disrupting everything Alexander wanted to do. I had him winning the 1st, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th rounds, primarily with the jab as the starting point but also with lead rights, his best weapon, and the occasional uppercut and assorted other tools. Defensively, he took a step back and caught a lot of what Alexander was throwing on his gloves.
Alexander did get a chance to show off some heart and fighting spirit, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad for him. He won some rounds by being busier, but by landing, not merely throwing, more than Kotelnik. Lederman had one of his all-time worst nights as an HBO scorer, claiming that Alexander was winning rounds by moving his hands where Kotelnik was not. He also ludicrously claimed that Alexander was the superior ring general and was leading in the “clean, effective punching” category, but for most of the fight, neither was true. Alexander did win some rounds other than by outworking Kotelnik, though, with his 1-2 and right hook to the body his best weapons.
The result — an Alexander win — wasn’t absurd, but I only marked one round “close,” so it was a bit disappointing that three hometown judges saw eight rounds for Alexander. Kotelnik never really had a chance, probably, although as with all 116-112 decisions in close fights, it wasn’t as terrible as other conceivable outcomes in a close fight. I don’t know where Kotelnik goes from here, but good for him for putting on a nice performance. Before the fight, Cunningham kept saying Alexander didn’t have all the natural ability in the world, but he was a harder worker than some other prospects he’d encountered. It’s Kotelnik, though, who overcame his lack of natural ability Saturday, using tremendous ring intellect to hide his flaws.
Alexander was probably already headed toward a showdown in January with #1 man Timothy Bradley, and I bet a good many fewer people will pick Alexander to win that fight than would have before. Bradley wasn’t stellar in his last fight, either, but he clearly beat his severe betting underdog, welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu. Yet despite both men’s lackluster recent performances, I still want to see them square off just as bad as I did before. These are still the two top men in one of boxing’s best divisions, two talented youngsters in the running for best up-and-coming American boxer, and with the willpower and drive both of them have, I bet they’ll produce a quality display of grit and skill.
TAVORIS CLOUD-GLEN JOHNSON
It wasn’t the Fight of the Year, but it was still a helluva fight. And the 2nd round was a Round of the Year candidate. As I expected, Cloud’s youth, superior speed and harder punching carried the day in the end, while Johnson’s indefatigable nature and smarts gave Cloud a run for his money. I didn’t expect the 41-year-old Johnson to throw so many more punches than Cloud, though, and a superior work rate helped keep Johnson in the fight.
In the 1st, Cloud clearly outworked and out-landed Johnson. But Johnson came back midway through the 2nd to begin punishing his younger foe to produce a seesaw round, and kept his momentum in the 3rd. The 4th was one of three I marked “close,” but I gave it to Cloud. The 5th was fairly shocking: Cloud badly hurt Johnson with a left to the temple and a follow-up flurry kept him in trouble, something you don’t see Johnson in very often with his crazy-good beard. This time, it was Cloud who kept his momentum into the next round, but after a great first minute by Cloud, Johnson carried the next two.
Cloud’s face was beginning to swell, and his work rate was dropping. I gave Johnson the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th. He won the 9th by following his corner’s direction to just keep landing shots on Cloud, even if they weren’t hard, and Cloud was either taking rounds off or that approach kept him from returning fire. Johnson’s jab was wonderful all night, and insofar as someone can win rounds with a jab alone, Johnson did it by out-jabbing Cloud when Cloud offered nothing in return. Still, in some of those rounds, Cloud was landing heavy shots, enough to keep things interesting.
In the 11th and 12th, Cloud summoned some reserves of energy to once again not only occasionally deliver hard shots, but frequently. The 12th was close, though, with Johnson trying to give whatever he had left and giving pretty well. Maxboxing’s Steve Kim reported that Johnson had some trouble making weight, and rehydrating 19 pounds overnight may have been a good indicator of that — if not for that, you wonder whether Johnson might have had a bit more left for those final two rounds.
Even then, Johnson looked as good as he has in a good long while. Florida’s St. Augustine is home to the supposed Fountain of Youth, and Florida’s Johnson looked like he drank from it. He’s as admirable and lovable a fighter as there is today, which gives me mixed feelings about him. He clearly can still fight at a high level, battling a talented kid like Cloud to such a close result, and it’s sad to imagine the sport without him. On the other hand, at some point I want him to walk away because I think he can do so while on top or reasonably close to it, a moment he inhabited Saturday evening. He’s flirted with cruiserweight. If he fights again, I’d expected him to move up.
As for Cloud, having to dig deep was something he hadn’t really needed to do before, and dig deep he did. That it’s no clearer now than before to me how he’d do against Chad Dawson makes you want to see the bout even more. Yes, Cloud proved he can hang in there against a tough opponent, but the bigger question is how he’d handle a top-notch slick boxer, something he’s never had to do before. On the other hand, Dawson was vulnerable against Johnson the first time they fought; could he stand up to a younger, harder-hitting, less crafty version of Johnson? Presuming Dawson gets by Jean Pascal next weekend to become the lineal Ring magazine champion — no sure thing — Dawson-Cloud is like a heavier and less meaningful version of Bradley-Alexander, and desirable for all the same reasons.
Assorted other weekend results:
- Junior middleweight Cory Spinks lost his alphabet belt to Cornelius Bundrage by 5th round stoppage. Spinks didn’t like the ref’s call. BoxingScene thought it was fair.
- On ShoBox, bantamweight Christopher Martin upset prospect Chris Avalos. Martin was excellent with his defense and counterpunches, pulling some James Toney moves like rolling his shoulder and following it with a quick counter right. Avalos couldn’t get out of the way of his left hand, a tribute to Martin’s superior quickness and Avalos’ poor defense. As good as Martin was, Avalos was as bad — he kept switching stances for no reason, and if this was his version of “boxing more,” he needs someone else to teach him boxing. You can’t say Avalos wasn’t ready for a step up, or that he didn’t need to face a slick fighter at some point. But unless he seriously overhauls his game, he might need to take the Alfredo Angulo route of dodging opponents with the kind of skill level of Martin for a while. Avalos was the focus of the evening, but Martin emerges as a very good fighter.
- Also on ShoBox, cruiserweight Lateef Kayode knocked out Alfredo Escalera in the 9th. There’s some raw material there, namely power, but it’s still very raw. Kayode was inaccurate and often slung his punches rather than delivering them in compact fashion. Trainer Freddie Roach wants a title shot for him by the end of the year, but that timetable is far too advanced.
- Lightweight Breidis Prescott scored a decision win over a gritty Harrison Cuello, but it said more about Amir Khan than it did either man. Prescott knocked out Khan two years ago in the first round, and since he hasn’t shown a smidgeon of power; Cuello’d been knocked out five times and Prescott couldn’t make it six. Prescott wobbling Khan with a jab suddenly seems all the more damning about his chin. That said, the Khan win over Kotelnik seems all the more impressive after the tough time Kotelnik gave Alexander.
- Featherweight Antonio Escalante tore through Edel Ruiz in three on Solo Boxeo.