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Showdown in the Dome

The top two fighters in the junior welterweight division will go at it on January 29 in Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome. One of them will emerge as the undisputed king of the hill.

Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander are both unbeaten, but there the similarity ends. With their contrasting styles this fight may very well come down to who can impose his will and control the ring. Will it be Bradley with his incredibly aggressive way of fighting or Alexander, the gifted boxer who likes to stick and run and use his multiple skill sets to frustrate opponents?

The case for Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs) centers on the way he overwhelms opponents with a high volume of punches thrown with such speed that it is difficult to see them coming, let alone counter He's like a machine with only one gear, high. When a fighter steps in the ring with Bradley he'd better be in the best shape of his life because he's going to get pushed to the limits of his endurance. So far no one has been able to outlast him. "Timothy trains very, very hard, a blue collar guy who fights every second of every minute of every round," says his promoter, Gary Shaw. "He trains in the desert in 100 degree heat, and it's the same temperature in his gym. It takes a certain kind of guy to work in those conditions and a lot of discipline."

The case for Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) hangs on his speed, agility and the variety of ways he can beat an opponent. Allow him to keep the fight at a distance and he'll pile up points by landing shots with his long arms. If you try to get inside on him, more often than not you'll wind up chasing a ghost. Fast feet and the polished movement of a dancer make him very difficult to corner, let alone beat. "He knows I'm too fast for him," Alexander says. "He knows that I'm going to be too slick for him. My skills are way better than his."

It was precisely those abilities that allowed Alexander to escape with a victory against former champion Andriy Kotelnik in his last fight. Early in the fight Alexander succeeded in keeping Kotelnik at arm's length, allowing him to banked most of the first six rounds. But when Alexander inexplicably stopped moving and stood in front of Kotelnik for long stretches at a time, the Ukrainian was able to get inside and do enough damage in the later rounds to nearly pull off the upset. The judges all gave it to Alexander, 116-112; although some who watched the fight felt Kotelnik had won. Shaw believes that Alexander was exposed against the crafty, disciplined Kotelnik. "If you ask Alexander and his trainer Kevin Cunningham they will say he just had a bad night," Shaw says. "Only Alexander in his head knows if he had a bad night or was exposed, and he'll have to deal with it.

In his post-fight remarks Alexander admitted it was not his finest hour. "I think I did enough to win. It was an okay performance for me." Alexander will need more than just okay to beat the likes of Bradley. Even if it was an off night, one thing that fight showed is that Alexander can be hit. He took way too many shots and was lucky Kotelnik is not a big puncher or he might have gone down. "What Kotelnik showed was Alexander has a very suspect defense," Shaw said.
That does not necessarily mean that Bradley will be able to exploit Alexander's possible flaws the way Kotelnik did. Kotelnik is a master boxer and technician and his patience and precision punching is what enabled him to repeatedly nail Alexander. Nobody will ever accuse Bradley of being either an exacting boxer or a patient one.

There's no question that Alexander has the faster hands and foot speed, but what's debatable is whether that swiftness can be used to his advantage against Bradley. At times - especially when he's inside - Bradley tends to throw wide looping punches that could leave him vulnerable to an excellent counter puncher like Alexander. But Bradley's non-stop flurry of punches complicates the issue for Alexander. Even when Alexander does spot an opening, he will have to deal with another punch or two already flying his way.

"He knows I'm too fast for him," Alexander says. "He knows that I'm going to be too slick for him. My skills are way better than his."

Alexander will also have to figure out a way to neutralize Bradley's other weapon, his head. Bradley almost always leads with his head, and cuts from butts are relatively common in his fights. When Bradley beat Kendall Holt in Montreal in 2009, Holt's corner was heard to yell to the referee: "Make him stop running in with that big ass head!"

Of concern for Bradley is that Alexander has proven he can take advantage of a fighter who comes at him head-first. Against the always tough Juan Urango last March, Alexander exposed the biggest weakness of a fighter who uses his head like a battering ram. In round eight when Urango charged in Alexander fired a devastating uppercut that floored him and quickly led to a technical knockout.

What will happen if Alexander catches Bradley with a similar uppercut? Based on Bradley's fight with Holt -- who's a harder puncher than Alexander -- it probably won't do all that much damage. Holt blistered Bradley in the first round with a counter left hook that lifted the champion off his feet and sent him down on his back. Remarkably, Bradley bounced right back up. Realizing he had more time to recover, Bradley went down on one knee and waited until the count of eight before getting up. Unlike most fighters who get tagged like that, Bradley did not try to clutch or just survive the round. He resumed his relentless onslaught of punches as if nothing had happened. "Timothy proved his chin against Holt, who may be the hardest puncher in the division," Shaw says. "To see him get right back up was amazing."

Alexander doesn't need a knockout to win this fight. His best chance is to keep Bradley from getting inside so he can use his superior boxing skills. That won't be an easy task. So far no one has succeeded in slowing Bradley down. If the scorecards are close it's possible Bradley's superior work rate could sway the judges, especially in rounds that could have gone either way.

Posted 12:00 AM | Jan 10, 2011

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