By Michael Gluckstadt
The biggest lie we tell ourselves in sports-watching and commentary is that the athletes are actually substitutes for the viewer. We'd never abandon our team in the fourth quarter like LeBron James. Roberto Luongo just needs to pretend he's playing at home. We think we know what goes on inside their heads, but how could we possibly?
Nowhere is that lie more exposed than in boxing. Sure, it certainly looked like Devon Alexander quit in his last fight against Timothy Bradley. That he clenched his eyes a little too forcefully when the ring doctor told him, "If you can't open up your eyes, the evening's over." But having never been pummeled by the likes of Timothy Bradley for ten straight rounds, including at least three head butts to the face, well, we're not really in a position to say, are we?
On HBO.com, Eric Raskin takes a look at some fighters who've recently been branded as quitters. What he's found is that it doesn't always stick.
Two years after quitting against Maidana, [Victor] Ortiz silenced questions about his heart by winning a 12-round slugfest against previously unbeaten Andre Berto. Vitali Klitschko quit with a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd, was savaged by the American boxing media, and fought through a horrifying cut against Lennox Lewis with maximum bravery three years later. Robert Guerrero appeared to do against Daud Yordan what Alexander did against Bradley, welcoming a premature ending without actually verbally surrendering, and has made the two-round no-contest a faded memory with six straight victories since.
Can Alexander join their ranks? He has a tough task ahead of him. In the Fight Overview story, also on HBO.com, Nat Gottlieb reveals that Alexander's trainer Kevin Cunningham believes this test could be even more dangerous than the last one his boxer failed.
Taking on Matthysse with his 26 knockouts in 28 victories, certainly isn’t an easier task. In fact, Cunningham says, “This fight is more dangerous than Bradley, because Bradley did not have the knockout punch Matthysse has. After Bradley, we wanted to come back against the best guy we could, and we got the biggest puncher at 140 pounds.” Matthysse could also easily be undefeated; his only loss a split decision to Zab Judah, in which one point separated them on all three scorecards.
Does Alexander posses the mental toughness to come back from his first career defeat? To withstand an onslaught from a fighter who's only had three professional fights that didn't end with his opponent getting knocked out? Only one man knows for sure, and the rest of us will find out on Saturday night.