Friday, June 24, 2011

Alexander Needs Skills AND Will for Matthysse

"Lucas Matthysse is one of the most dangerous fighters out there, a big puncher."
                                                    -     Devon Alexander

"I call him Lucas 'the Beast' Matthysse.  I think he's a beast and he has the highest knockout percentage in the division...This fight is a lot more dangerous than the Tim Bradley fight.  Devon has to be on his game.  He is prepared and he has to be focused."
                                       -      Kevin Cunningham, Alexander’s trainer

Team Alexander has the right frame of mind going into this fight.  They are aware of the problems that Matthysse presents.  However, no one knows how Alexander will react to getting hit by Matthysse's first, clean right hand.  Alexander hasn't been protected any more or any less than other modern, American fighters, but he has never faced a puncher of Matthysse's caliber.  Juan Urango could bang but he had a one-dimensional, plodding attack.  Alexander's athleticism and pure boxing skills easily fended off Urango's challenge.  With Matthysse, Alexander faces a cerebral puncher that can move and set up his power shots. 

Matthysse's style is different from a typical knockout artist.  For instance, unlike fellow junior welterweight and Argentine Marcos Maidana, Matthysse employs footwork and uses angles for his attack.  Whereby Maidana marches straight in and absorbs tremendous punishment to land his right hands and uppercuts, Matthysse fancies himself as a craftier, offensive fighter.  Trained by the Sarmiento brothers, who also work Sergio Martinez's corner, Matthysse understands the importance of defense and strategy.  He applies intelligent pressure, but he's not a face-first brawler.  

Maidana and Matthysse also have strikingly different physiques and modes of attack.  Maidana has a loose upper body; his strength comes from his legs.  Matthysse features a chiseled torso and attacks with tight, angular movements.  Maidana wants to trap his opponents along the ropes and go to town with his power shots.  Matthysse uses the ring to set up his right hand, left hook and uppercut.  Matthysse has a jab (although he doesn't throw it as much as he should), whereas Maidana doesn't even pretend to feature one.

Matthysse earned his opportunity with Alexander with his hard-fought loss against Zab Judah.  Judah banked many of the early rounds in the fight – as he always does – but Matthysse came on strong during the second half.  He delivered a crushing knockdown of Judah in the 10th round, yet somehow Judah made it to his feet and survived the rest of the fight.  Many observers thought that Matthysse won the fight, but he had to settle for a majority decision loss.  Judah, fighting in front of his hometown fans, bettered Matthysse on two scorecards by a single point.  

Alexander finds himself in another high-profile main event because he negotiated a guaranteed return fight from HBO as a reward for agreeing to face Tim Bradley.  

The Bradley-Alexander fight disappointed in almost all aspects.  There was very little sustained action.  Most of the fight was spent in close proximity with both boxers failing to land their big shots.  Instead, the crowd was treated to grappling, mugging, head butting and clinching.  Bradley had the right game plan to fight Alexander, who needs space for his jab and uppercut.  Alexander looked uncomfortable fighting in such close quarters.  Curiously, Alexander did not rely on his footwork to create better angles for his attack; he was content to let Bradley march forward and initiate.  

By the middle rounds, it was clear that Bradley was the more aggressive fighter.  After a series of head butts, two cuts opened up on Alexander.  The cuts did not appear to be overly threatening, but nevertheless, Alexander chose not to continue during the tenth round.  The fight went to the scorecards and Alexander lost a clear decision.

It was not Alexander's loss that bothered many in boxing, but the manner in which he fought.  He didn't seem to display much urgency.  He looked completely flustered by Bradley's unbridled aggression.  For some reason, he neglected his uppercut, his money punch.  Alexander also decided to stop fighting in the 10th instead of letting his corner try to work on the cuts.  In short, he didn't rise to the occasion in a title unification fight.  His team, which includes promoter Don King, said as much after the fight.  

Against Matthysse, Alexander has a number of physical and technical advantages  that, if utilized correctly, can lead to victory.  Borrowing from the Judah blueprint, he can pick up some early rounds by starting with his jab and outworking Matthysse.  Alexander must leave the pocket, where he is most comfortable, and rely on his superior footwork, jab and combination punching.  He needs to turn Matthysse and quickly get out of range.  

In the Judah fight, Matthysse afforded his opponent too much respect.  Judah, a notorious frontrunner, is never better than in the first four rounds of a fight. Matthysse seemed content to pace himself in the early rounds and not immediately go to battle.  Perhaps Matthysse's deliberate start could be explained by the fact that he only had one fight last 10 rounds prior to facing Judah.

Against Alexander, Matthysse needs to land something hard early in the fight.  He must take Alexander out of his rhythm.  When in close, Matthysse should use his superior physicality to wear Alexander down by leaning on him and clinching.  Observing Alexander's struggles in the Andriy Kotelnik fight, Matthysse can get to Alexander with unconventional angles and crafty footwork.  Alexander also doesn't possess the same type of knockout power that Judah featured; it would be advisable for Matthysse to push for a slugfest in the later rounds.

Ultimately, this fight will be determined by two factors.  1. Will Alexander fight with the discipline and mental focus needed to execute his game plan for 12 rounds?  2. Will Alexander be able to recover from Matthysse's right hands?  Alexander has the advantages in foot speed, hand speed, technique and experience.  But does he have the internal fortitude to defeat a tricky, physical and aggressive fighter with knockout power?

Kevin Cunningham, who is often Alexander's public mouthpiece, knows the challenges that Matthysse presents for his fighter.  However, inside the ring, it is only Devon Alexander who can win the battle of wills and achieve victory.  The task won't be easy and the outcome of this match will tell us a lot about whether Alexander has a chance to be something special as a fighter, or just another former amateur star who looked surprisingly ordinary without the headgear.

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