Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander are both children of America. Hailing from California and St. Louis respectively, the pair were undefeated world boxing champions two weeks ago. Bradley at 26-0 held the WBC junior-welterweight crown, while Alexander at 21-0 claimed the WBO equivalent. They are young, gifted and black. They are two of the most promising young American pugilists left in a flagging sport desperate for heroes of a stars and stripes persuasion.
Two weeks ago Bradley defeated Alexander in a dud, live on HBO. They drew a reported live gate of only 1,500 interested fans. There was talk of just 400 tickets being shifted two weeks out from the event at Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome, though the accuracy of those reports is up for debate. Either way, the 80,000-seat arena, the former home of the Detroit Lions, was configured for a 7,000-seat setup, and even that measure failed to prevent the humiliation and sense of anti-climax that followed boxing's first major event of 2011.
On what was supposed to be the crowning night of their respective boxing careers, young American champions Bradley and Alexander swapped blows in balaclavas. They were anonymous to the wider public and, aside from a select few hardcore fans, nobody appeared to care all that much which one of the two unified the 140-pound division.
The logical excuse for all this is to highlight the fact that matching two out-of-towners in a rundown building in Detroit was never exactly a decision shrouded in genius. However, it's also worth mentioning that super-middleweight Andre Dirrell attracted 7,000 fans to his 'Super Six' clash with Arthur Abraham at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, while UFC 123 packed 16,400 spectators into The Palace of Auburn Hills. So, although Detroit has unquestionably fallen on hard times of late, sport fans and, more importantly, fight fans remain present in the famous city.
The anonymity of Bradley and Alexander has less to do with Detroit and more to do with inadequate promotion and the growing sense that America has given up on its homegrown boxing heroes. Along with the three Andres -- Dirrell, Ward and Berto -- Bradley and Alexander were supposed to have been the fighters to help carry American boxing into the next decade and beyond. No longer able to rely on the pull of Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones and the like, American boxing is in need of attractions capable of exciting and enticing a disillusioned public.
Talented though they undoubtedly are, Bradley, Alexander and the three Andres, for whatever reason, struggle to match up to their fighting forefathers. Bradley and Berto slug aggressively with a sense of abandonment, but have yet to secure the necessary fights to project their exciting styles to the wider world. Meanwhile, slick stylists Ward, Dirrell and Alexander represent an acquired taste, and will never appeal to those short on attention and patience.
Moreover, styles aside, the biggest issue here is that most Americans don't even know who their fighting countrymen are nowadays. They haven't even been afforded the chance to watch Bradley wail away with both hands or Ward pitch a back-foot masterclass. Instead, these gifted Americans are the product of 2011 and are bearing the brunt of boxing's inability to create and promote American stars.
Manny Pacquiao and now Nonito Donaire have no problem attracting Filipinos, Miguel Cotto and now Juan Manuel Lopez have cornered Puerto Ricans and Mexicans will always be game for a fight. Boxing in Europe continues to thrive as well, and bouts in Germany involving the Klitschko brothers can often lure upwards of 50,000 spectators into football stadiums.
It's a Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins-less America that I worry about. Once those two great champions are out of the picture -- potentially any time within the next twelve months -- the country requires another fighter with the style and charisma to take over the baton and stand up to be counted and recognized.
The most likely candidate for the role, as far as I can see, doesn't even reside in a boxing ring at weekends. New York-native Jones 'Bones' Jones is a UFC light-heavyweight contender and a long-limbed mixed martial artist. He is 23-years-old, 6'4 in height and boasts a reach of 84-inches. He also possesses a beaming smile as wide as his wingspan and an ability to charm that even the likes of Mayweather and Hopkins have lacked.
Oh yeah, did I mention the fact that Jones is American and can fight his ass off? He has only been training and competing for three years, yet already claims six UFC wins to his name and has finished his last five beaten foes within the distance. For my money -- pounds, rather than dollars, by the way - Jones is also the most naturally exciting American fighter to have emerged in either boxing or mixed martial arts for a number of years.
While Bradley, Alexander and the three Andres stir a certain admiration from watching them perform, Jones excites like Tyson. He is flashy, unpredictable and forever in pursuit of an early finish. It feels like an event each and every time his long legs step inside the Octagon. You can't take your eyes off him for the duration, such is the sense of mystery and unorthodoxy. Often Jones himself isn't even sure whether he'll throw a punch, kick, spinning back elbow or toss his foe into the air with a never-before-seen throw of some description.
More importantly, America is starting to sit up and take note. Jones has now become a staple of UFC events on both Pay-Per-View and Versus, often performs in front of sold-out live crowds and last week was bizarrely name-checked in a YouTube video by Hollywood A-lister and admirer Rosario Dawson.
Jones again dazzled inside the Octagon on Saturday night in Vegas, as he brought down the curtain on another great American hope, Ryan Bader, in the second round of their Pay-Per-View battle. Now, on March 19, Jones receives a shock stab at Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua's world light-heavyweight title. Should Jones emerge victorious, and thus become one of only seven UFC world champions, genuine superstardom lies ahead for the personable New Yorker.
While the savage Rua proudly represents MMA's old school, Jones could be a grinning, articulate and entirely American image of the future. He says and does the right things, and is a template athlete, both inside and outside his office. Backed by the substantial promotional push of the UFC, light-heavyweight Jones has everything in place to shed the balaclava and win the hearts of many fight fans eager to relate to a likeable American champion, blessed with the style and smile to engage.
It's fair to say the boxing world rues the day Jon Jones decided to add kicking and throws to his punching repertoire three years ago.