Saturday’s like the sound a soda can makes upon opening. It marks the return of consistently world class boxing to the airwaves, when Devon Alexander and Juan Urango duel on HBO in arguably the deepest division in the sport, junior welterweight. And I say this knowing full well, by the way, that this fight stands a 90 percent chance of blowing. We’ve had some good scraps to kick off 2010, but rarely have they been particularly meaningful. I need my vitamins to go along with my candy, and there have been a lot of empty calories to go around, so Alexander-Urango hits the spot. And it gets my love besides for kicking off a good stretch of boxing that runs nearly every weekend through June.
Separately, Alexander and Urango are capable of producing good fights to accompany their wholly different kinds of talent. Alexander is one of the most gifted youngsters in the sport, a complete boxer and true blue chipper who’s already climbed to #4 in the division’s rankings at age 23. When Alexander is aggressive and has an opponent willing to engage him, he puts on enjoyable exhibitions of the sweet science. Urango likes nothing more to engage. Urango is a gritty banger who sits at #6, and he makes very exciting fights when he gets an opponent who will stand in front of him and swaps leather. When he doesn’t get that kind of opponent, he is only in ugly fights. Alexander and Urango are probably going to get ugly.
[The next round of the TQBR Prediction Game starts with this fight. Join in here, and don’t forget the rules.]
Because there just aren’t any limits to my willingness to mix metaphors, Alexander is the liquid mercury in the headline to Urango’s cast iron. He’s a slick lefty with defensive acumen, a varied offensive arsenal and a knack for counterpunching. He hits, and while he gets hit back sometimes, he comes out at the end of almost every round ahead in the equation. When he goes to the body, he’s mean about it. His left hand has become increasingly powerful in particular, and he’s scored knockouts in each of his last four fights, including against Junior Witter, a highly-ranked veteran whom Alexander outclassed and forced to quit. Power, though, isn’t in any way his primary attribute. That, by far, is his speed. But he also strikes you as a tough kid, hardened as he was by seeing so many of his peers who showed up at the St. Louis boxing gym where he fled a life on the streets die or go to jail. If you connect on him, he doesn’t shy away or go into a shell. He responds. Witter was a massive step up for Alexander in his last fight in 2009, and Alexander showed veteran poise.
Urango is the cast iron, then. If Alexander is one of the fastest men in all of boxing, then Urango is one of of its hardest to hurt. Randall Bailey dropped Urango in their last fight with what was maybe the best single punch of the whole year. It was the first time I recall seeing Urango dropped or even wobbled, and he got up and eventually KO’d Bailey. The man’s head is an anvil. I’m being literal. You could forge armor on his face. It’s the truth. With that asset, he dispenses with niceties like “jabbing” or “head movement” and stalks directly forward behind a high guard winging hard, energy-sapping punches at the skulls and rib cages of his opponents. What you see is what you get with Urango, but he’s crafted a brutally effective career out of some physical and mental toughness and some wild and heavy shots. He’s the more experienced of the two men, having been in with Bailey (a KO win) a prime Ricky Hatton (a loss, but he gave Hatton a rough go), welterweight phenom Andre Berto (same as with Hatton) and contender Herman Ngoudjo (a decision win).
Given that Alexander isn’t just going to allow himself to be walked down by Urango and brawl it out, there really are only a few questions for the fight. Are there major things we don’t know about Alexander since he only has one win over a ranked foe, Witter, who also happened to claim an elbow injury and was fighting like crap? If Alexander can’t take a punch at all, as in, he’s got a glass jaw, then Urango has a strong chance of winning this fight. My sense, though, is that Alexander legitimately has a good or at least decent chin, and he’s not going to go down with one shot from Urango, a strong puncher but not a “wow” KO artist most of the time.
Another is whether Urango’s stellar chin will pick this fight to give out. In 2009 we saw several iron jaw heroes get KO’d, like welterweight Antonio Margarito and super middleweight Librado Andrade. If it happens for Urango, though, I don’t see Alexander being the man to do it.
That brings us to the drama-killing dynamic of Urango fights. Hatton and Berto had pretty decent chins, and took some hard shots from Urango, but they realized that taking many of them would be dangerous, and they simultaneously realized they couldn’t keep Urango off them with mere movement or counterpunches because Urango was going to keep coming no matter what you did or where you went. So they hugged him. They hugged him like their life depended on it, which is kind of did. Urango, curiously, responds to being held like you pressed a button on his computer that put him in sleep mode. He doesn’t try to wrangle free and he doesn’t try to work with a free arm. He just stops and waits for the referee to break them apart.
Unless Urango’s corrected that, I don’t see Urango winning. I don’t think Alexander is going to get dragged into a brawl, or that he’s got no chin. Urango’s wild style is made for counterpunchers, or at least counterpunchers who don’t mind stinking out the joint by hugging him for dear life. I give Alexander the off chance of knocking out Urango with a body punch a la the demise of Andrade, but I’m betting we get a long hug-a-thon. Alexander by unanimous decision, and with the win he’ll become the stacked division’s clear #2 man behind Timothy Bradley, hopefully paving the way for that fight between tough, smart boxers.