One little space between two words can make all the difference.
The January 29 junior welterweight showdown between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander is being promoted as "The Super Fight." When the words "super" and "fight" sidle up alongside one another to form "superfight," the result is a term unique to the sport of boxing that describes matches between two top-of-the-line stars, like Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler or Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad.
Bradley, Alexander, and everyone involved with putting "The Super Fight" together know it's not a superfight. But it very well could be a super ... (pause) ... fight.
And if indeed that's what it is, then it could propel the winner into a superfight - no space between the words - someday soon.
On the surface, what's at stake in this battle of unbeaten beltholders is simple: the winner claims the top spot in the talent-laden 140-pound division. Currently, most experts place Bradley in that position while ranking Alexander either second or third (directly above or below Amir Khan), but the current order is based on speculation, not concrete proof of who can beat whom. Bradley vs. Alexander will offer proof.
And as the first high-profile boxing match of 2011, smartly positioned on the slow sports weekend between the NFL conference title games and the Super Bowl, it will offer the winner an opportunity to begin crossing that bridge from "boxing star" to "boxing superstar" and from "mainstream nobody" to "mainstream somebody."
There are three key questions that will determine how far across that bridge he travels: (1) Will the fight be thrilling enough to generate a reverberating buzz that spreads from hardcore fight fans who watch live to casual fans who are inspired to catch a replay? (2) Will the winner's performance be impressive enough to land him on everybody's pound-for-pound list? (3) Will the winner find his name mentioned as a likely future opponent for Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather?
It won't be easy to check all three boxes, but if the answers do indeed come back yes, yes, and yes, then Bradley vs. Alexander will have been much more than just a fight to determine who's the current king at 140.
For his part, Bradley is being very careful not to get caught looking ahead and insists his next step if he defeats Alexander is to clean out junior welterweight by taking on Khan.
"I'm not even thinking about it," said Bradley, 26-0 (11), when asked for his thoughts on moving up to 147 and facing one of the two biggest names in boxing. "There is so much business to take care of at 140 before I would think about the Pacquiaos and the Mayweathers, which I would like to do. Each weight class needs one king, and that's what we are going to do at 140."
The view from the Alexander camp is slightly different, at least based on what the St. Louis southpaw's trainer, Kevin Cunningham, had to say recently about the options of facing Khan or going after more established, veteran stars.
"We want mega-fights after beating Tim Bradley," Cunningham said, "and Khan is no mega-fight for us because Khan is no mega-star. Anyone of the Big Four [Pacquiao, Mayweather, Shane Mosley, or Juan Manuel Marquez], now that can be a mega-fight."
Indeed it can - if Alexander can beat Bradley in a convincing and entertaining enough manner to establish himself as a "mega-star." But if Alexander, 21-0 (13), wins a close decision in a ho-hum chess match, he'll probably still need to beat someone like Khan to elevate his name toward mainstream status.
In a June 2010 interview, Freddie Roach, the trainer of both Pacquiao and Khan, joked, "Who is Devon Alexander? Have you seen him fight before?" The reality is that, for now, the 23-year-old Alexander is less proven than the 27-year-old Bradley and winning that one fight might not earn him entry in conversations that contain Pacquiao's or Mayweather's name.
And it's those conversations that establish new superstars. Pacquiao and Mayweather had long been revered by serious boxing fans, but it wasn't until each fought and defeated Oscar De La Hoya that they became household names.
In the months to come, when the talking heads are on SportsCenter discussing upcoming options for Pacquiao or Mayweather and either Timothy Bradley or Devon Alexander gets mentioned, that's when they'll start to cross over to superstardom.
"You have to keep building stars that make sense for those superstars to fight," explained HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg. "Someone's going to emerge at 140 pounds as a star. We're really putting a lot of weight behind Bradley-Alexander, we're putting a ton of marketing out across America, we expect that fight to generate a lot of noise. Then that will catapult us into a mega-fight when the winner takes on Amir Khan, if he should win his next fight. And after that, the winner would be in the Pacquiao or the Mayweather sweepstakes."
There's so much talent at junior welterweight right now that both winner and loser in Bradley-Alexander will have limitless options. There's Khan, of course. There's the dangerous and dynamic Marcos Maidana. There's Andreas Kotelnik, whom many believe deserved the decision against Alexander last summer. There's the gifted and marketable Victor Ortiz.
And one weight class below, there's lineal lightweight world champion Marquez, who might represent a gateway of sorts for the Bradley-Alexander winner between taking care of business at 140 and moving on to the brand-name pay-per-view headliners.
But try as we might to stay in the moment or take it slow, the larger possibilities for the Bradley-Alexander winner are impossible not to think about.
"The reality of today's boxing scene is that all roads, all ships, all planes lead to Manny Pacquiao," said HBO on-air analyst Larry Merchant on HBO.com's "Looking Ahead" preview of Bradley-Alexander. "The winner of this fight is going to get on that short list toward [Pacquiao]."
Provided that winner triumphs with style, that prediction is likely to come true. And that means Bradley-Alexander is much more than just a boxing match. It's an audition for the role of a lifetime.
There’s so much talent at junior welterweight right now that both winner and loser in Bradley-Alexander will have limitless options.
Posted 12:00 AM | Jan 20, 2011
HBO WCB - January 29, 2010