Alexander – Kotelnik: Never Sleep On The Underdog

Alexander and Kotelnik battle in St Louis pic David Martin Warr)
Alexander and Kotelnik battle in St Louis pic David Martin Warr)
By Matthew Hurley: Devon Alexander has been tapped as a future big star by many fans and boxing scribes, myself included, so it was a bit disconcerting at first to see him struggle against the rugged former titleholder Andreas Kotelnik. The junior welterweight belt holder had his hands full in a rousing 12 round battle that went his way by scores of 116-112 across the board. But the champion acknowledged just how difficult the fight had been.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that Andreas Kotelnik is not a tough fighter,” he said in the ring after the decision was announced. “He’s an ex-champion and he was as tough as nails.”

Criticism of Alexander will surely be forthcoming and some of it is warranted. He seemed a bit too easy to hit, and Kotelnik is not a speed demon. However, Kotelnik is a wily veteran who remains patient in the ring and sticks to his game plan.

Alexander may have been launching the flashier combinations, which seemed to bedazzle HBO’s unofficial scorer Harold Ledderman who had him winning going away, but many of his punches missed their mark. Meanwhile, Kotelnik applied steady aggression behind a stiff, deceptive jab, straight right hands and some good bodywork. That steady attack took Alexander into deep waters. It’s a rite of passage every fighter must go through to prove to himself that he can handle a tenuous situation, learn from it and become a better overall fighter. It will also be a constant reminder to never underestimate an opponent.

As taxing as the bout was, I scored it a draw, Alexander kept his cool and fought like a champion. He is only 23 years old and one shaky performance should not lead those who had previously lauded his talent and potential to jump off the bandwagon or completely reassess their opinion of his worth. Hey, styles make fights and there will always be tough, gritty veterans out there who will give hell to any young fighter. 41-year-old former light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson, who lost a spirited battle against 28-year-old Tavoris Cloud on the undercard, is a prime example of that.

Furthermore, sometimes a less than stellar performance by a rising star in a division loaded with talent is just what the boxing world needs. Show a bit of vulnerability and suddenly everyone from the number one contender on down thinks they can exploit those perceived weaknesses and terrific matchups become easier to make.

Unfortunately for Kotelnik because he doesn’t hold a belt as a bargaining chip he represents a high-risk low reward proposition. He may be on the outside looking in. But his terrific effort should be rewarded. Anyone who felt he deserved the decision will get no heated argument from me because he was tit-for-tat with Alexander from the third round on.

After the scorecards were read a visibly upset Kotelnik stated his case.

“If the fight were anywhere else but here (Alexander’s hometown of Saint Louis), I would be the champion.”

His disappointment is understandable and hopefully he will remain in the junior welterweight mix and get another shot in the near future.

As for Alexander, all roads lead to a highly anticipated showdown with fellow 140-pound belt holder Timothy Bradley. Bradley recently fought at welterweight, winning a decision against Luis Abregu and looked a bit shaky himself. He’s clearly not a welterweight. It’s a matchup that should be made sooner rather than later because, as Kotelnik proved, anything can happen in the boxing ring. You simply cannot sleep on an underdog.

“I want Bradley next,” he proclaimed to HBO’s Max Kellerman and the fans in attendance. “He keeps saying he’s the best in the division. I want him next.”

Good. Let’s make it happen.

August 10, 2010
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