It was supposed to be Devon Alexander's shining moment. Big stage, HBO lights, a talented (but beatable) opponent in Tim Bradley. who was holding a junior welterweight belt that Alexander was eager to add to his collection.
The stage was set. Then, it wasn't.
Over 10 often hard to watch rounds inside a sparsely filled Pontiac Silverdome last January, Alexander got beat up. He took a few head-butts from Bradley and ate more than a few punches on the way to a unanimous technical decision defeat.
It was a bad loss.
Alexander's reaction to it was worse.
Facing a roomful of media, he went on the defensive. He pointed to the stitched-up cut above his right eyelid and then at Bradley's skull. He bragged about how he was starting to rock Bradley with his power shots before Bradley started using his head as a torpedo.
"People are going to say what they want to say," Alexander said that night. "But, let them get head-butted and try to be in a fight through constant head-butts."
It was a moment of immaturity from a 24-year old who, to this point, had shown very little of it.
"No one likes to lose," Alexander said. "I was upset for about a couple weeks, but my coach was talking to me and it wasn't like it was the end of the world. It's not like Bradley dominated the fight. It was something I didn't do. I didn't follow the game plan. There were things I was supposed to be doing in the ring to come out with the victory and Bradley didn't do anything that we didn't prepare for in camp. It was all me and I definitely learned from that. Now I am back and ready to rock and roll."
Alexander could have come back against a softer touch. HBO had guaranteed him a $1 million-plus payday for his next fight and there was a whole list of challengers they probably would have accepted. Instead, Alexander chose Lucas Matthysse, a power-punching Argentinean with the highest knockout percentage (86.7 percent) of any contender in the division. The two meet on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET) at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
"Devon has to be on his game," said Alexander's trainer, Kevin Cunningham. "He has to be prepared and he has to be focused. These are the type of fights that, if you want to claim you are the best in your division, you need to take on. A lot of guys think [Marcos] Maidana is the toughest guy in the division. I think it is Matthysse. He has a better punching style and better boxing skills."
Alexander's responsibilities in this fight are two-fold. He has to win -- a loss would move him back to the middle of a crowded 140-pound pack -- and he has to win in an entertaining style to regain his status as a marketable star.
That won't be easy. Matthysse isn't tough to hit, just as long as you are willing to get hit back. He took 150 shots in a loss to Zab Judah last November, but he dished out 165, including a whopping 147 power punches that had Judah running for his life in the later rounds.
Alexander's response: I'm not Judah.
"I think Zab is older and his legs are pretty much gone," Alexander said. "I am fresher, younger and hungrier. I will be on him and throwing punches all night."
A win means big things for Alexander. With Bradley in self-imposed exile -- "I don't know who is advising Bradley," Alexander said -- he can again become the darling of the division. Lucrative showdowns with Maidana, Amir Khan or Erik Morales would be on the table, as would a potential rematch with Bradley in 2012.
It's redemption time for Devon Alexander, a second chance to reclaim his place among boxing's elite.
"I am going to look spectacular," Alexander said. "I learned from the loss against Bradley. I want to beat him and beat him convincingly. Not just go in there and it be an OK fight. I want to say 'OK, I lost the Bradley fight, but now I am back on top' and be one of the best in the division."