Both Devon Alexander and Marcos Maidana, who face one another Saturday on HBO, have spent the better part of the past few years hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Against Andriy Kotelnik and Lucas Matthysse, Alexander barely won, and plenty of observers don’t think he deserved to win either of them at all. Marcos Maidana nearly lost to Victor Ortiz, DeMarcus Corley and Erik Morales, and came close to beating Amir Khan. These are two men who either don’t have a lot of teeth-skin left to hang on to, or else have especially pliant and durable chomper epidermis.
It’s one of the dynamics of the fight: Which of these escape artists will find his way out of the straitjacket this weekend? But there are more dynamics than that. It’s the true welterweight debut for both of them, after spending years as the class of the 140-pound division. It’s a boxer-puncher match-up. And it’s got the makings of a good action fight — Maidana is in it, and logic dictates that because there is no such thing as a bad Maidana fight, it should be good; and Alexander has been at his best against aggressive punchers, while Maidana has shown he can be fun even when pitted against a slick boxer. It’s not the ideal match-up most of us would make for Maidana (cough cough Brandon Rios cough cough), but as intriguing crossroads bouts go, it more than does the trick.
Alexander is pretty consistently the favorite of the boxing media to pull this one off. It has something to do with the fact that Maidana is such a one-trick pony. But, as the saying goes, it’s a pretty good trick. Maidana is boxing’s purest slugger, a hard-headed, heavy-handed, indefatigable sort. “Technique” is a dirty word to the Argentinian. Maidana is just powerful and relentless enough to hang with anyone. He’s just sloppy and vulnerable enough to lose to anyone, too.
He says he’s learned at least one new trick for this fight: Stamina. Maidana has had a tendency to disappear for stretches of fights, so if his new strength and conditioning program is on point, it could turn the relentlessless up a notch.
Whereas Maidana has been remarkably consistent — in both his flaws and good qualities — Alexander has been on a slow plummet. It began with his shaky performance against Kotelnik, fresh off a New York Times feature about Alexander. The loss to Timothy Bradley just about bottomed out his reputation in the boxing world; he seemed reluctant from the start, and has been accused, with some cause, of using the late-round head butt as an excuse to get out of the fight. He showed more grit against Matthysse in his next fight, but it wasn’t enough for him to win the fight clearly.
At his best, Alexander was a quick, southpaw boxer with some punching ability. Maybe the whole “we have been draining ourselves to make 140 ponds for too long” excuse from Alexander’s team is just that — an excuse — but the lack of pop in his shots in recent fights points to the potential that it’s true, although maybe it could be attributed as well to what I see as a decline in his technique and ring intelligence. All I can say is that the guy who knocked out iron-chinned Juan Urango hasn’t been seen since.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Alexander’s team is saying they feel great about the new weight. It’s a moving piece for both men, the new division, but it’s more of one for Alexander. You have to figure Maidana carries at least some of his power up to 147; if Alexander is MORE powerful at 147, that would be huge for Devon.
Something else that’s huge for Alexander is that the fight is in St. Louis, where hometown boy Alexander has at least gotten the benefit of the doubt from the judges, if not outright gifts from them.
If the fragility we saw in Alexander against Bradley is still there, Maidana has the potential to shatter him. But just on boxing ability and the match-up, I would’ve picked Alexander to beat Maidana at the junior welterweight limit where Alexander said he was struggling. I’ll go ahead and assume the new weight is more likely to help Alexander than hurt him, and have little effect on Maidana.
That means I’m picking Alexander by decision, and one less debatable than the Kotelnik and Matthysse wins. But I could see it being a bit closer and more controversial than that, with Alexander rocking Maidana early only to face his wrath late, the way Maidana did Khan. Either way, Alexander probably gets it. Maidana losing a fight like this probably does nothing to his reputation — he’ll be in demand no matter what, and people can write it off to a bad style match-up. If Alexander wins, it’s no guarantee he’ll return to the status he once enjoyed as NYT cover boy and most-ballyhooed young American boxer. But it’d be a nice step back to respectability that now seems like forever ago.