One of the most common templates for a boxing narrative is the classic boxer-puncher fight. On the surface it appears we have one slated for February 25th in St. Louis, when Marcos Maidana, the lethal power slugger with limited boxing skills faces Devon Alexander, the slick boxer with fast hands who wins more on points than knockdowns. But pigeon-holing this fight would be a mistake. Although Alexander can box your ears off, he has a fondness for going inside and standing toe-to-toe. That may be a bad move against Maidana, but it will make for an exciting fight.
There are also many subtle issues at play which could decide the winner. Chief among them is stamina. Alexander (22-1,13KOs) has been labeled a great six-round fighter who fades down the stretch, a contention supported by his most recent fights. His camp counters that the fades were a result of trying to boil down to the 140-pound weight limit, which cut muscle and left him fatigued. This fight will take place at 147, and both Alexander and his trainer Kevin Cunningham say the extra seven pounds will make a big difference in his stamina.
Maidana appears to have his own stamina issues, although they're much less obvious. He's a relentless attacking machine with sledgehammers for fists, and opponents do not have to study much fight tape to know what the Argentinean is going to bring to the ring. From the opening bell to the closing bell, Maidana will come straight at you throwing bombs. His work rate is remarkably consistent right to the end. What doesn't show up in CompuBox is that the power behind those fists seems to diminish in the later rounds.
Exhibit number one is Amir Khan. In December of 2010, Khan - whose chin has always been suspect - was staggered by a monstrous overhand right about a minute into the tenth round. Maidana had a full two minutes left in the round to finish him off, but couldn't, despite the fact that Khan was on life support. Maidana hit Khan with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, shots that landed cleanly against Khan's head and should have knocked him down. Khan may have demonstrated tremendous heart, or maybe Maidana's power had tailed off because he was tired from throwing so many punches earlier in the fight.
Exhibit number two: Maidana's inability to knock down 34-year-old Erik Morales, whom he beat by a slim majority decision last April. Unlike Khan, who spent a lot of time dancing and circling away from Maidana's lethal right hand, Morales often stood right in front of the Argentinean, eating a tremendous amount of leather, but was still standing at the final bell.
Aside from stamina, there are a couple of other issues which could be considered advantages for Alexander. Not only does this fight take place in his hometown, but it is scheduled for only 10 rounds. Power punches typically wear down opponents and then put them away in the championship rounds. Not having to go those extra two rounds will benefit Alexander, who has a reputation for fading.
Another factor is that the only two losses Maidana (31-2, 28 KOs) has suffered have been to classic boxers-first a split decision to Andriy Kotelnik in 2009, then to Khan in 2010. Morales is also very skilled, and when he wasn't standing in front of Maidana, he was boxing circles around him and landing at will.
What might equalize Alexander's advantages is that he has had his toughest fights against boxers who put pressure on him. Kotelnik, not normally an aggressive fighter, took the fight inside and negated Alexander's superior skills. Bradley smothered Alexander all night to inflict the only loss in Alexander's pro career. In his last fight, against another Argentinean slugger, Lucas Matthysse, Alexander again struggled to deal with relentless pressure.
Chin could also be at issue, especially because of how hard Maidana hits. Will Alexander be able to stand up to fists that hit with the kick of a mule? Evidence suggests he might. Alexander has been down only once in his career, and that instance may have been something of a fluke. About 30 seconds into the fourth round against Matthysse, Alexander was dancing on his toes and had one foot up in the air when the Argentinean knocked him to the canvas with a straight right. Alexander smiled the whole way down and got right back up. Had his feet been set, he probably wouldn't have fallen. Matthysse hits with only a shade less power than Maidana, and has won 27 of his 29 fights by knockout, so Alexander clearly demonstrated he can take a punch.
Maidana has also shown a strong chin, although he is no stranger to the canvas. In 2009, Victor Ortiz knocked Maidana down once in the first round, and twice in the second. The Argentinean got up each time and eventually knocked Ortiz out in the sixth round. Maidana also went down in the first round against Khan when caught with a left hook that landed smack on the liver, one of the most painful shots in boxing. Again he got up, and continued to bring the fight.
"I think the reason fighters who are good boxers will face Maidana," HBO analyst Max Kellerman says, "is because they see him as beatable. He is no technician. But they don't underestimate his will power."
There is a lot at stake for both fighters. Maidana needs to demonstrate he can beat a skilled boxer in order to get closer to elite status. Alexander needs the victory to re-establish his reputation. In his last three fights, Alexander shows a loss to Bradley, a victory over Kotelnik in what many felt was a hometown decision, and then a lackluster effort against Matthysse, which resulted in a split decision in his favor in St. Charles, Missouri, only nine miles from home.