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Eyes Open, Alexander Burns to Bounce Back

Some four-letter words are allowed in boxing, especially on a network like HBO. A couple of the more popular four-letter words flew from Devon Alexander's mouth on the night of January 29, as he reeled in apparent pain following a clash of heads with Timothy Bradley. And a few moments later, he developed an unfortunate association with the one four-letter word that simply doesn't fly in his sport: quit.

There is often gray area when it comes to applying this word. Sure, sometimes a fighter announces his surrender outright, without room for interpretation. But often it's unclear. As Alexander brought to a premature end his fight against Bradley, he rolled around on an artist's palette that featured every shade of gray known to man.

Exactly one minute into the 10th round of a fight Bradley was winning closely but clearly, the heads of Bradley and Alexander banged together, Alexander taking the brunt of it directly on his left eye. Wincing, the St. Louis southpaw dropped to his knees in the corner, then rose when referee Frank Garza gently slapped him on the side and told him to get up. Garza walked Alexander over to ringside physician Dr. Peter Samet, and as Samet tried to examine him, Alexander closed his eyes tightly and said, "S**t hurt, man. F**k."

Samet asked Alexander to open both eyes, but the fighter wouldn't or couldn't, shaking his head vigorously for a moment and shouting, "F---! It burns!" Alexander never specifically said he didn't want the fight to continue, but all of his body language suggested he was in no condition-either physically or mentally, depending upon your interpretation-to fight on. The referee stopped the fight on the advice of Dr. Samet, and Bradley won an aborted technical decision, slapping the first loss on Alexander's record.

"I asked Alexander to open his eye three times, but he couldn't do it," Samet explained after the fight. "I feared temporary nerve damage or temporary paralysis was preventing him from opening his eye, so I recommended to the referee that the contest be stopped."

HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley instantly declared the ending a "worst-case scenario for a fight of this stature." A dull bout had reached an unnatural conclusion, and though some observers gave Alexander the benefit of the doubt and reasoned that he was doing nothing more than expressing his physical symptoms to the doctor, others were highly dubious and applied the "Q" word. Lampley falls into the latter camp, and was unambiguous when asked recently where, on a scale of 1-10, he would place Alexander's extraction from the fight (10 being a blatant quit-job).

"It's about as close to a 10 as I've seen," Lampley declared. "He did not appear to be debilitated physically. There wasn't a cut that big, there wasn't blood in his eyes or anything like that. People get hit in the ring. Whether it's by gloves or by the head or shoulder or whatever, you have to expect physical contact in there, and his quit was very similar to that of Victor Ortiz against Marcos Maidana, in the sense that he seemed to be saying, ‘I shouldn't have to take the kind of punishment that I'm taking in there.' There are fine gradations, obviously, when trying to judge someone else's internal motivation for what they're doing. But to me, it was a quit."

The Ortiz case is just one of many examples from recent years of not only a controversial surrender but also of a fighter responding in an inspired manner in a future bout. Two years after quitting against Maidana, Ortiz silenced questions about his heart by winning a 12-round slugfest against previously unbeaten Andre Berto. Vitali Klitschko quit with a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd, was savaged by the American boxing media, and fought through a horrifying cut against Lennox Lewis with maximum bravery three years later. Robert Guerrero appeared to do against Daud Yordan what Alexander did against Bradley, welcoming a premature ending without actually verbally surrendering, and has made the two-round no-contest a faded memory with six straight victories since.

As Alexander prepares to return to the ring on June 25 against Argentine knockout artist Lucas Matthysse, he seems to be motivated by the criticism in the same way those other temporarily shamed fighters were.

"I know that criticism comes with the business," Alexander said. "But hearing what people have to say, it's motivation on top of motivation. I'm already motivated because I got a loss on my record. This is just making me extra motivated. I'm anxious to show people on the 25th why I am one of the best 140-pounders in the world.

"Losing is not a good feeling, but you can't trip off of it. If you get defeated, you have to accept what happened and know that it's all about how you come back. After the Bradley fight, a guy told me, ‘Hey, Sugar Ray Leonard lost to Robert Duran and then became one of the best fighters in the world.' That was good to hear. I'm going to take that knowledge and become one of the best in the world. 

Alexander is saying the right things-but, of course, confident talk does not assure a successful comeback.

It must be noted, though, that Alexander's actions support that confidence. After all, would a fighter who doubts himself return from his first defeat by taking on a man with 26 knockout victories in 29 fights?

"I don't see any sense in trying to get a tune-up here or a tune-up there," Alexander said. "Matthysse is a tough, rugged fighter, and I'm still wanting to fight the best, so that's why we're taking this fight."

Lampley likes the matchup because it's precisely the sort of barometer needed to inform us as to whether Alexander is made of the sort of unbending material required in this punishing sport.

"The qualifier for Devon Alexander now is that he needs to go back into the ring and prove that he ‘gets it' about the fight game. And there's no better way to do that than to go in against a hard bodypuncher who may well foul you. That's Matthysse," Lampley said. "Is Devon going to bite down and fight? In this tough 140-pound division, if Devon is going to make noise, he's going to have to cross that line and learn to fight physically if the fight demands it."

One thing you have to say about Alexander is that he's a realist. He wishes he could prove himself in a rematch against Bradley, but he acknowledges that it isn't a possibility right now because there's nothing in it for Bradley or the fight fans.

So he has to go about erasing the memory of his loss to Bradley by taking on other fighters. This path won't earn him revenge. But it can earn him redemption.

The extent to which Alexander needs redemption is a matter of opinion. But Alexander himself seems to feel he needs it. And that's usually the first step toward finding it.

Posted 12:00 AM | Jun 20, 2011

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