The welterweights heat up Las Vegas this weekend as two 147-lb. fights headline separate cards on Showtime and HBO. Originally scheduled for 2013, former champions Amir Khan (29-3, 19 KOs) and Devon Alexander (26-2, 14 KOs) square off in the main event on Showtime at the MGM Grand. A year ago, this fight would have been for a title but big things are still in the picture for Saturday's winner, such as an opportunity for Floyd Mayweather or another big name in the welterweight division.
On HBO, pound-for-pound fighter Tim Bradley (31-1, 12 KOs) takes on rugged Argentine Diego Chaves (23-2, 19 KOs) at the Cosmopolitan. Both boxers are coming off of losses, but under much different circumstances. Bradley was on even terms with Manny Pacquiao in the first half of their rematch earlier this year until foot injuries and strategic miscalculations helped lead to his demise. Pacquiao controlled the second half and won a unanimous decision. Chaves was beating Brandon Rios in his last fight but he was also fouling incessantly; he wound up getting disqualified. On Saturday, Bradley will be trying to keep his name in play for bigger opportunities in 2015 while Chaves will be searching for a signature win in his career.
Read below for my previews to these fights. My prediction will be at the end of each write-up.
Amir Khan vs. Devon Alexander
What to look for?
Ring geography: Khan's best bet is to fight Alexander on the outside, using his hand speed, accuracy and legs to initiate offense and stay out of trouble. Alexander will look to work on the inside whenever possible, using his physicality, body shots and short counters to control the fight's action.
The Khan jab: He'll need to throw it a lot but he can't get discouraged if he doesn't have early success with it against Alexander, a southpaw who can be hard to hit cleanly. At worst, Khan's jab will disrupt Alexander's rhythm and timing. At best, it can be a real offensive weapon in the fight. But as always, Khan needs to return his jab hand quickly to a defensively responsible position after throwing it. If he leaves his jab out (like he sometimes does), he can get himself into trouble.
Power counters from Alexander: If he can land them, specifically his straight left and right hook, the fight could be really competitive. If he can't, he will lose a wide decision.
The fight's going well for Khan if...
It's very boring. Khan hits and runs. He finds occasions to set his feet, land a few shots and get on his bike. Also, the fewer clinches there are in the fight, the better it is for Khan, who is just uncomfortable in those spots and gets physically and mentally worn down in the trenches. Khan wants to make it as clean of a fight as possible – quick shots, get in and get out, rinse and repeat.
The fight's going well for Alexander if...
They are trading power shots. A problem that has plagued Khan throughout his career has been his overconfidence. After starting out disciplined, he gets greedy in the pocket, trying to fire five-, six- and seven-punch combinations. And while he can dazzle in those situations, he also provides opponents with the ability to time him and score with their own combinations. Under new trainer Virgil Hunter, Khan has worked at keeping his punch sequences much shorter and getting out of the pocket faster and more responsibly (not straight back), but he can still be prone to admiring his work.
Alexander needs to be patient for his opportunities. When Khan stands in front of him without being busy, Alexander must pounce, firing with lead left hands and right hooks. Also, his counter left must always be ready to go. Alexander doesn't have one-punch knockout power, but when right, he has the accuracy and boxing skills to disrupt Khan's game plan and put him on the defensive. Once Khan is in retreat, he is prone to making even more mistakes. Alexander may have to sell out for big shots but this approach may be the best one for him to prevail. He won't win a jabbing contest.
Key questions to consider:
1. Which Devon Alexander will show up? The focused one is a lot better.
2. Will Khan listen to his corner throughout the fight?
3. Can Khan stay disciplined for 12 rounds against a top fighter?
4. Down on the cards, can Alexander get a knockout?
How I think it plays out:
I think that this fight will be a pedestrian affair with Khan engaging in stretches but not succumbing to a brawl. He will win the punch stat battle and his flashy shots will appeal to the judges. There will be times when Khan needs a break or he'll get sloppy. There, Alexander will have his moments but I don't think that there will be enough of them for him to win the match. We'll see a lot of Alexander failing to pull the trigger. I predict that Khan wins an 8-4 or 9-3 type of fight.
Amir Khan defeats Devon Alexander by unanimous decision.
Tim Bradley vs. Diego Chaves
What to look for?
Who will be the more disciplined fighter? For Tim Bradley, the more he boxes the better he will do against Chaves, who loves to engage in brawls. As for Chaves, discipline means staying within the rules and keeping his mental toughness throughout the fight.
Bradley's mobility: Bradley has had foot and leg problems in a number of his recent fights but he will need his legs to help him win against Chaves. If he remains stationary on Saturday, he will be courting significant dangers.
Can Chaves dent Bradley's chin? Chaves hits very hard – hard enough for Keith Thurman to back off and box, hard enough for Brandon Rios to do his crazy-smile routine after getting nailed with big shots. But can Chaves hit hard enough to knock out Bradley? Bradley's been dropped by Ruslan Provodnikov and Kendall Holt and staggered by Pacquiao. To this point, his chin has just barely held up on a few occasions but how long can that last? And if Chaves hurts Bradley, can he finish the fight off? I don't foresee a Chaves decision victory in the cards.
The fight's going well for Bradley if...
He's boxing well and Chaves is unable to put combinations together. Bradley will use his Ring IQ (which can come and go) to stay away from prolonged exchanges. If the fight's going Bradley's way, Chaves will spend a lot of time following Bradley around the ring in vain, unable to let his hands go. Bradley's quick jab and lateral movement will force Chaves to constantly reset his feet, making him unable to load up on his power shots.
The fight's going well for Chaves if...
He can land his bombs. Chaves has a number of offensive weapons, specifically his lead right hand, which can be straight or looping, as well as his uppercuts. He's also a very strong combination puncher and works the body hard. However, his offense is predicated on an obliging opponent. Rios, a come-forward guy who often laughs at defense, was the perfect opponent for Chaves to feature his entire offensive arsenal; however, Bradley will likely be more difficult to corral. If Chaves can land his power shots consistently, he has an excellent chance of hurting Bradley and forcing him into a brawl.
Key questions to consider?
1. What kind of shape is Bradley in? Rumors abound at how much Bradley has blown up in between recent fights. Eventually, bad training regimens will come back to haunt a fighter, and for Bradley, they already may have – his foot injuries could be a result of poor conditioning.
2. Can Chaves think his way through a fight? Thurman's switch from brawling to boxing confounded Chaves. What does he do on Saturday if "Plan A" doesn't work?
3. Will Bradley listen to his trainer? He's been out-of-synch with Joel Diaz during a number of his recent fights.
4. Could Chaves actually win a decision on the cards? Let's face it; Chaves is the "opponent" here. The fight is being waged in Top Rank land. Chaves can't afford for the fight to be close.
How I think it plays out:
Deviating from conventional wisdom, I think that the timing is all right for Chaves here. Bradley has had injuries, weight issues, problems listening to his trainer, wanderlust about bigger fights, questions about his ring identity, poor decision making in the ring and all sorts of other issues that may be in play on Saturday. I'm also not sure if Bradley's body can withstand another war.
I think that Bradley will win many battles of the fight but lose the war. Chaves' power shots will eventually take over and Bradley will be in survival mode. I believe that Chaves' footwork will not allow a hurt Bradley to escape. Furthermore, if and when Bradley is hurt, clinches will not be a safe place for him against Chaves, who will wear him down on the inside. Timmy will fight on as long as he can and it will be a scintillating bout to watch but Chaves' relentlessness and power will be too much for Bradley to handle.
Diego Chaves TKO 10 Tim Bradley.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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