PONTIAC, Mich. -- The look on Brandon Jacobs' face was a blend of anger, frustration and disbelief, the kind of expression the New York Giants' running back usually only gets after a late hit from a linebacker. The source of Jacobs' ire wasn't a cheap shot, though. It was Devon Alexander, who moments earlier had wriggled his way out of his 140-pound unification fight with Timothy Bradley after complaining about a cut over his eye.
"He ain't got no damn heart," shouted Jacobs, who moonlights as the manager for former junior welterweight champion Kendall Holt. "He ain't no champion. You don't quit. You don't quit."
Yes, the lasting impression of last Saturday wasn't Bradley's performance or the emergence of a new top dog in the junior welterweight division. It was that in the biggest moment of his young career, Alexander, the St. Louis star with the thousand-watt smile, just didn't want to fight anymore.
Sure, there were excuses. Alexander said he couldn't see and complained of a burning sensation in his eye. The ringside doctor said he was concerned about nerve damage and possible paralysis. After the fight, Alexander needed four stitches to close the cut over his right eye and two more on the one over his left.
True champions, however, fight through adversity. They resist when ringside doctors -- especially doctors in a state with limited big-fight experience -- tell them to pack it in. Think Arturo Gatti would have quit? In 2001, Oscar De La Hoya opened up a cut under Gatti's eye that required 13 stitches to close in a fight that ended with Gatti's corner throwing in the towel. Kelly Pavlik was a bloody mess in the final three rounds of his fight with Sergio Martinez last April yet still battled until the final bell.
Cuts are a part of boxing. They are a reason to change strategies, not call it a night.
"His excuses were bull----," said Bradley's promoter, Gary Shaw. "He wanted out of the fight."
It's unfortunate, because Saturday night should have been about Bradley. No, the win didn't make Bradley a star; a lack of punching power probably will prevent that from ever happening. But in beating Alexander, Bradley cemented his status at the top of the 140-pound division. He showed heart in relentlessly walking down Alexander and skill in his ability to keep Alexander off balance for most of the fight.
"Someone was asking Alexander why he didn't throw more uppercuts, but you know why he didn't? He didn't because Tim didn't give him an opportunity to throw it," Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, said. "He didn't put himself in position to be open for Alexander to throw an uppercut."
Indeed, it was a big night for Bradley. The win sets up an anticipated showdown with Amir Khan, a fight that Khan's promoter, Richard Schaefer, says could happen on July 23 or July 30. The winner will emerge as a viable candidate for a big-money showdown with Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather in the fall and a chance to truly take his place among the best in the world.
Alexander's future is far less certain. At 23, the ex-champ has plenty of time to repair his reputation. And he is in the right division to do it. But after watching Alexander dance around the light-hitting Bradley, you have to wonder how he would fare against heavier hitters like Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah or Lucas Matthysse. You have to wonder if Alexander has the heart to match the hype.
Before Saturday's fight, much was made about matching the loser against Maidana, who dropped a close decision to Khan in December. That seems unlikely now, as Alexander is probably more likely to seek a less dangerous fight before considering getting in the ring with a human wrecking ball like Maidana.
But he will have to, eventually. Alexander didn't turn into another Jeff Lacy or even Judah as a result of Saturday's fight. He's not overrated ... yet. He still has time to prove he deserves to be mentioned among the best. More important, he still has time to prove he has heart. --
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"The mere fact that it happened made it a tremendous success."
Japanese champion Takashi Uchiyama (left) hits challenger Takashi Miura during their WBA super featherweight world title match in Tokyo on Jan. 31. Uchiyama won on a TKO in the eighth round. (AP)