The NFL Rams chartered a team bus from training camp to see Devon Alexander fight at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis Saturday night. After going 1-15 last year, Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo undoubtedly felt his team needed inspiration from watching a winner. They got to see a victory by Alexander, but it was hardly the stuff which would spark them any time soon to win a Super Bowl.
Unbeaten unified champion Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) had a much harder time than anticipated with former champion and Ukrainian Olympic silver medalist Andriy Kotelnik (31-4-1, 13 KOs) grinding out a workmanlike unanimous decision, 116-112 on all three cards, before a hometown crowd that included both state Senators and the Governor of Missouri.
In a junior welterweight division deeper than any in boxing, Alexander had been thought to be emerging as perhaps the cream of the crop. But after this fight, doubts were raised as to just how well he would fare against unbeaten Timothy Bradley, the only other boxer at 140 pounds mentioned in the same breath as him. Considering that fellow champion Amir Khan threw a near shutout against Kotelnik last year, one has to wonder how well Alexander would even do against the Brit.
The 23-year-old Alexander came into the fight with a solid reputation as a skilled boxer-puncher, but what the hometown crowd of 9,117 got to see was more finesse than pizzazz. Alexander won most of his rounds by outworking Kotelnik, but the Ukrainian used more economical, precision shots to get through a less-than-stellar defense displayed by Alexander to keep the fight close.
The heavily-partisan crowd was relatively subdued watching Alexander's stick-and-run offense, but the fighter was only following the game plan of his trainer Kevin Cunningham, who continually exhorted him in the corner between rounds to box and not stand in front of a fighter not known as a heavy puncher. Cunningham was the trainer of Corey Spinks, one of the slickest if not most boring fighters of this decade, and it seemed like he was hell bent on turning Alexander into the second coming of Spinks.
Alexander, who overcame a brutal childhood, seems capable of surviving and thriving in a more combative mode, but after this fight, he looks more like an unfinished product than a boxer on the verge of becoming the dominant name in a division which also includes Marcos Maidana and a rejuvenated Zab Judah.
In the co-feature, unbeaten light heavyweight Tavoris Cloud (21-0, 18 KOs), who is hoping to get a shot at Chad Dawson, didn't look like he was ready to face the best man in the division yet after his performance against rugged Glen Johnson (50-15-2, 34 KOs). Cloud with youth and fast hands on his side, gave up his advantages by fighting in a phone booth with Johnson, who makes his living in closed spaces. Cloud won a unanimous decision, 116-112, on all three scorecards, but it appeared to be even closer than that. The defending champion simply gave up too many rounds by leaning in tight and playing Johnson's game. When he did let his hands fly, Cloud outworked the former champion and conqueror of Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones Jr. and seemed to win the final three rounds on activity alone. Johnson's high glove defense gave Cloud fits all night, and the 28-year-old champion did not work the body enough to break the 41-year-old challenger down. Had Cloud sat outside and peppered Johnson with his fast hands, as the unbeaten Dawson does to his opponents, he could have breezed to a victory.