One of boxing's most enduring story lines is the crossroads fight, an encounter pitting two combatants whose mission is not only winning but also winning the right to remain among the elite.
Such will be the case when Devon Alexander meets Argentine power-puncher Lucas Matthysse Saturday on Alexander's turf in St. Louis. "The Great" was far less than that in losing a 10-round technical decision to fellow belt-holder Timothy Bradley in January while Matthysse dropped a disputed split decision to Zab Judah last November. While Alexander nursed the wounds to his face and pride, Matthysse returned to Argentina just 10 weeks later and stopped ex-champ DeMarcus Corley in eight, scoring eight knockdowns along the way.
What must each man do to maintain his spot? Their CompuBox histories revealed the following strategic advice:
Bring out the whipping stick: When Alexander snaps his jabs from proper range, everything else works better. In his best performances (against Corley, Miguel Callist and Juan Urango), he more than doubled his opponents' jab connects per round (8.2 to 4.0) and enjoyed a 22.3 percent to 15.5 percent connect advantage. That success extended to his overall game as he landed nearly twice as many punches (22.3-11.2) and power connects (14.1-7.2) per round. The percentage gaps were also impressive (31.2-21.9 overall, 40.6 to 28.3 power).
But when Alexander chooses to use the jab as a range-finder, his offense suffers. Against Jesus Rodriguez, Andriy Kotelnik, Junior Witter and Bradley, he landed just 11 percent of his 35.6 jabs per round while his foes threw less (22.3) but were more precise (24.8 percent). Without the spearing jab to threaten them, his rivals closed the gap and were more accurate (29.2-20.5 overall, 33.0-30.6 power shots).
Bradley was particularly effective in taking away Alexander's jab. Against Witter, Urango and Kotelnik, Alexander averaged 45.4 jabs per round -- nearly double the 24.9 division average -- but Bradley's aggression limited Alexander to 18.5 through nine completed rounds because he forced Alexander to indulge in more chest-to-chest combat. While Alexander outperformed Bradley in raw numbers (129-128 total connects, 98-89 in power connects), "Desert Storm" was Schwarzkopf-like in neutralizing his opponents' strengths. Matthysse would do well to emulate Bradley's precepts.
Pierce the guard with power shots: Matthysse's aggressiveness comes with a price -- he gets hit more often than perhaps he should. Judah threw just 11.5 power shots per round but he landed 45.7 percent of them. A 36-year-old Corley connected on 36 percent of his power shots and a past-his-best Vivian Harris landed 35 percent. If Alexander can establish proper range with his 71-inch reach, his chances of success will go up given Matthysse's somewhat leaky defense.
Build upon the southpaw foundation: Alexander is the third consecutive left-hander Matthysse has faced and against Judah and Corley he proved his effectiveness. Though he lost to Judah, he led statistically (665-634 in punches thrown, 165-150 total connects, 415-138 power punches thrown, 147-63 power connects). He landed 35 percent of his power shots against "Super Judah," who would go on to win the vacant IBF strap against Kaizer Mabuza four months later.
Against the faded but still tricky Corley, Matthysse landed 37.4 percent overall (216 of 578) and an impressive 46.6 percent of his power shots.
The secret to his southpaw success is his volume. When comparing his three fights against lefties and his four fights with orthodox fighters, Matthysse threw more (60.3 per round to 47.1 overall, 19.7 jabs to 12.9 and 40.6 power shots to 34.2) and landed more against southpaws (18.4 to 16.8 total connects and 40.7 percent to 37.4 in power shots). He connected less against them (35.7 percent to 30.6 overall and 31.0 to 9.7 in jabs) and they landed more against him (23.6 percent to 18.9 overall and 38.6 percent to 29.8 power), but the higher volume made up for those shortfalls.
Pound the tub: Matthysse's body attack was particularly lethal against Corley. Body shots accounted for six of the eight knockdowns and 84 of his 196 power connects targeted the ribs and flanks. The 5-8 Alexander sports a lean torso that may be vulnerable to a consistent attack.
Prediction: The key to this fight is which Alexander will show up. Alexander "The Great" has the tools to out-box Matthysse but Alexander "The OK" will not prevail. Home ring advantage -- which will give him a critical edge in the judging -- and Alexander's back-against-the-wall status will propel him to a razor-thin decision.
Posted 12:00 AM | Jun 23, 2011
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