Bradley-Alexander: Welter Can Wait (This Can’t)

Timothy Bradley didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his one-sided welterweight debuting win over Luis Carlos Abregu on Saturday, but he did take some important steps toward making his name in boxing.

First and foremost, he got on HBO, the place you want to be if your ultimate goal is to make the big bucks on pay-per-view. It was a well-deserved move after cutting his teeth against gritty competition on Showtime, beginning with his junior welterweight title-winning effort against Junior Witter. Following that with three impressive wins against tough opponents, he managed to come out unscathed, his undefeated record intact.

And not only did he look good in his HBO debut, but he gave fans a reason to remember him when he spent his post-fight interview calling out Manny Pacquiao.

Bradley isn’t going to get a fight with Pacquiao. He and his manager Gary Shaw know this. Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum has already stated that barring a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao will be facing either Antonio Margarito or Miguel Cotto in a rematch when he steps back into the ring this November.

What Bradley and Shaw are doing is planting the seeds for a major fight down the road. Arum has said that he won’t make rival promoters’ boxers become stars off the names of his fighters. So Bradley will have to make himself a star before stepping into the ring with Manny. The key is to keep talking and keep winning.

Now that Bradley has mentioned Pacquiao by name, Bradley has become a name. Fans who didn’t know about him before might now. And when those fans start asking about Bradley, they’ll start asking about his biggest challenges.

The one whose name sits at the top of the list is fellow undefeated American Devon Alexander.

Like Bradley, Alexander got his first break on Showtime, also beating Witter for a junior welterweight belt. While Bradley edged out a close decision over Witter in a tactical fight in 2008, Alexander made Witter quit a year later. He was hot on Bradley’s heels before some fans were even aware of either of them.

Alexander transitioned over to HBO with a dominant knockout win over the previously un-knock-out-able Juan Urango. The win earned Alexander his second title in the 140-pound weight class, making him a clear number two behind only Bradley, whose body of work there remains only slightly better.

It’s true that both guys could tackle other competition for another year and make a big fight with one another down the road. The problem with that is if Bradley and Alexander don’t fight each other, the demand will be for them to face the other top junior welterweights, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana.

Given the risk against either of those men, Bradley and Alexander may as well fight one another now. For two undefeated Americans on the cusp of pound-for-pound status to wait too long and lose out on a fight like this would be a major blow to the sport.

In terms of importance, Bradley-Alexander could mirror Mayweather-Corrales, where the two top junior lightweights had no choice but to fight before one moved up in weight or got upset. Mayweather won decisively and went on to become the top draw in boxing ten years later. And even the loser, Corrales, wasn’t set back terribly, putting together an unforgettable lightweight run from 2004 to 2005.

The one – and only – good thing about Mayweather and Pacquiao failing to come to a deal for November is that it means neither of them will be leaving boxing in 2010. Neither can retire with this fight – and the money it represents – still on the table.

So they’ll inevitably try to do it again in the spring of next year, which means that is the time for Bradley and Alexander to come together and make a big fight of their own. And if they’re smart, they’ll do it the week after Mayweather-Pacquiao, when fans are urging the winner of that fight to stay and take on their next biggest challenger: the winner of Bradley-Alexander.

With even HBO pushing them toward one another, Bradley and Alexander have little time to make a fight, probably one more interim bout for Bradley and two for Alexander, counting next week’s match against Andreas Kotelnik.

If Alexander beats Kotelnik as most expect him to, HBO’s best move this fall or winter would be to set a doubleheader pitting Bradley and Alexander against good but not the greatest of challengers, hope they come out victorious and make a major World Championship Boxing card this spring. Zab Judah is coming off his first good win in years and is a local rival of Alexander’s. That takes care of one match. And in Bradley’s own words after dispatching Abregu, he’ll fight anyone.

Strike while it’s hot. Once Bradley or Alexander takes the “0″ of the other, they’ll be as hot as ever at the perfect time.

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