By Tyson Bruce
This weekend live on Showtime boxing Amir Khan and Devon Alexander, two fighters of whom greatness was always expected and yet was never quite fulfilled, meet in a match of high risk and reward perhaps like no other in 2014.
Despite his obvious talent and entertainment value Khan, 29-3-0-(19 KOs), had become something of a pariah in the sport of boxing or at the very least one of its most polarizing figures. Khan’s reputation was that he had the tendency to act like the petulant child when he doesn’t get what he wants.
Case in point: not getting the Floyd Mayweather fight. Despite losing to Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia and not scoring a major victory since 2011, when he starched Zab Judah with a body shot, Khan had boldly portrayed himself to the media as a victim of boxing politics.
His claims of being “ducked” look even more incredible when you consider his only accomplishment at welterweight is beating a well past his best Luis Callazo.
At one point in time, a victory over Callazo was a worthy achievement, but in recent years, Callazo had been nagged with injuries, been sporadically active at best and even suffering a wide points loss to journeyman Freddie Hernandez. The justification for Callazo as a serious threat because of his win over Victor Ortiz seemed to some like a manufactured attempt to usher Khan into the Mayweather sweepstakes before he’d really earned it.
If Khan were to beat Devon Alexander, however, then he will have earned the right to challenge just about anyone at 147.
Alexander, 26-2-0-(14 KOs) was once thought to be the future of American boxing because of his sensational and prodigious rise up the 140 ranks as an early pro. However, once Alexander got to the big show, his results have been inconsistent at best. At one point, he looks like he could conquer the world, as he did when he dominated Marcos Maidana and Juan Urango and the next time like fools gold, such as when he floundered against Tim Bradley and Shawn Porter.
Aside from his inconstancies at the championship level, Alexander has become the source of fan disdain in his own right because of some of the agonizing TV fights with which he’s been involved. We all remember when he treated the corpse of Randall Bailey like he was fighting a prime Ernie Shavers, right? His highly controversial hometown decisions over Andriy Kotelnik and Lucas Matthysse didn’t help either.
The Ukrainian Kotelnik was so crushed by the decision against him in 2010–in a fight which saw him dominate the punch stats, with HBO’s announcers openly questioning a clearly dazed Alexander’s “win”–that he left the sport, only returning very recently with a win this past October.
Is this view of Alexander somewhat unfair? Of course, but to the jaded hardcore boxing fans out there you are only as good as your last performance, and Alexander has unquestionably had some duds in there.
Amir Khan and Devon Alexander might both feel like their a hair away from being on the same level as Mayweather and Pacquiao, but in the eyes of the boxing public they aren’t even close. What they fight for this weekend, then, is respect more than anything else.
The winner of this fight will be a bonafide challenger for any 147-pound contender or superstar. The loser enters the murky water between former champions and division gatekeepers. Those are awfully high stakes and could result in a better than expected action fight.
The undercard involves the welterweight whose name no fighter will dare utter making just his second appearance of 2014.
That fighter is of course Keith Thurman, who perhaps more than any other fighter this year, has seen his career blunted by the cruel politics of boxing.
Despite having a breakout year in the 2013, when he beat three legitimate contenders in one calendar year and showed impressive charisma, Thurman seems to have been barred from the dinner table that is the welterweight Top Ten in 2014. In his only other fight of the year, he was forced to take a meaningless fight against the ancient Julio Diaz (who had just gave Khan a life and death experience) in what amounted to being a pointless exhibition. His next ring foe, forty-year-old opponent Leonard Bundu, in not expected to be much more of a threat than Diaz.
Having Thurman, 23-0-0-(21 KOs), on a regular TV undercard elicits two major reactions. The first is excitement that the division’s biggest punching and most exciting young talent will be an added bonus to an already solid main event. Then, however, you see whom he’s fighting and its soul-crushing. Bundu, 31-0-0-(11 KOs), is fighting outside of Europe for just the first time, and has literally one victory on his record that even resembles a world class victory: against a rookie prospect in Britain’s Frankie Gavin.
Why is the twenty-five year old fighter with the undeniable talent and star potential of Thurman wasting his prime fighting guys like Bundu? Whatever the answer is, it doesn’t appear to be Thurman’s fault, as he’s called out everyone from Floyd Mayweather to Adrien Broner.
Despite sharing the same manager as most of the other top welterweights (Al Haymon), Thurman doesn’t seem able to secure a major fight. This despite the fact 2014 has seen other Haymon fighters in less demand like Robert Guerrero get to headline TV dates for literally millions of dollars to fight stiffs.
The fight against Bundu presents danger only in that so little in known about him that this presents the opportunity for Thurman to underestimate his opponent. It would be impossible for Thurman not to have his eyes on bigger things. Against a rugged aggressive guy like Bundu, who has everything to gain and nothing to lose, this can create unexpected danger. Its incumbent for Thurman to do what Gennady Golovkin does and put on an excellent knockout performance and create fan demand steadily with each fight.
Also on the card will be the return of featherweight Abner Mares, who looks to go 2-0 on the comeback trail since his upset loss to Jhonny Gonzales in 2013.
Mares will take on Jose Ramirez, whose name may be familiar to boxing fans because it’s the guy Vasyl Lomachenko made his professional debut against. Ramirez is certainly no world-beater, and Mares will be massively favored. However, it will be a fascinating to compare his performance to those of Lomachenko, who could be a potential Mares foe in the future.