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American boxing superstars are few and far between these days.
Sure there are some. Bernard Hopkins has a mainstream name, but he is 46 and must be close to the end, even though he continually defies Father Time. Shane Mosley, who is 39, is limping toward the finish line of a brilliant career.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is clearly the biggest name in American boxing, but at 33, he's not getting any younger. Besides, he rarely fights anymore and faces several serious criminal charges stemming from an alleged domestic incident in September.
So who else is there?
Maybe super middleweight titlist Andre Ward, the 26-year-old 2004 Olympic gold medalist, who is on the verge of stardom, especially if he wins the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Another possibility is 27-year-old welterweight titlist Andre Berto, who is fast and skilled, but has been roundly criticized for his lackluster opposition.
The two other best bets are junior welterweight titleholders Devon Alexander, 23, and Timothy Bradley Jr., 27, who are widely regarded as the best two junior welterweights in the world.
They want to prove that they can take the mantle as America's next big thing in the ring, which is why they will meet in a much-anticipated unification showdown at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET).
"The winner of these fights, and I say these fights because there are so many guys at 140 pounds, we are going to be the new faces of boxing," Bradley said. "The older guys in their 30's are on their way out. We are going to be the new breed. We need to come in and take the throne."
Alexander-Bradley is that rare matchup of the best against the best. That rare matchup of young, undefeated American champions.
"This is a fight just like the old days," said St. Louis' Alexander. "They used to want to fight the best. They would be itching to fight the best. They used to say, 'He's the best, let me get in there with him.' It brings back a lot of the roots in boxing and it means a lot to have two undefeated champions [fighting]. It's a major thing."
"You see these two undefeated American world champions going into the high-risk zone. The greater the risk the greater the reward," Don King, Alexander's promoter, said. "They both have something to lose but they both have something to gain, showing in this sport that the best fight the best. That's how you get the acclaim of a Muhammad Ali, a Joe Frazier, a Roberto Duran, a Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Leonard. Those are the ones that come in there and fight the best. We have an opportunity to establish the heroes in boxing by claiming 'I am the best.' Saying and doing. Talking the talk and walking the walk."
Gary Shaw, Bradley's promoter, has a reputation in boxing for consistently matching his fighters tough. He is doing it again with Bradley.
"Boxing will always survive if we can put the best against the best all the time," Shaw said. "It should be the end of an era where a fighter fights one tough fight then two easy fights. If you have a tough day at work you have to come back tomorrow and work again. You can't tell the boss you want an easy day. This is more than just a fight. This is two young, undefeated American world champions willing to step up."
Much has been made not only of the fact that Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) and Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs) are undefeated Americans squaring off, a rarity these days, but also that they are African-Americans.
"This fight is not only good for the African-American race, it is good for boxing," said Bradley, of Palm Springs, Calif. "In every interview, I hear that boxing is dying and MMA is taking it over and it's not the same anymore. Well here you have two African-American fighters -- I just like to say Americans -- two undefeated guys who are champions, young and in their prime [and they] are going to go at it. It doesn't get any better than this. We both are undefeated. He doesn't know how to lose and I don't know how to lose. Somebody's '0' has got to go and that's the bottom line. It's great for boxing. It's great for the African-American race. It's great for our careers. It's great for the public. Period."
It took quite some time put the fight together. That does not come as much surprise considering how much both fighters have at stake.
Their title belts.
Their undefeated records.
A possible July showdown with the cash cow of the division, titleholder Amir Khan of England.
And, further down the road, a move up to welterweight, where the winner figures prominently in the sweepstakes to land a possible fight with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao or Mayweather.
"We both have our entire professional career riding on this one," Alexander said. "The winner moves on to another big fight."
The undefeated record in boxing is something special, but sometimes it overtakes a fighter as he becomes obsessed with retaining it, often at the expense of facing the best competition.
That has been the albatross around Mayweather's neck for years and a reason why many believe he won't sign to fight Pacquiao in the boxing's biggest fight.
The zero on Alexander's record is important to him, but it wasn't enough to deter him from taking the fight with Bradley.
"My zero means a lot. It means that I have a perfect record and I have been victorious every time," Alexander said. "I want it to be like my name says: Alexander 'The Great,' warrior. He was undefeated like the record says. Right now they cannot call me a Hall of Famer because I have not done enough yet, but no one has beaten me."
Bradley confesses that at one time he was a bit obsessed with his perfect record.
"Last year, I was asked what I wanted for 2010 and I said I wanted to remain undefeated," Bradley said. "This year, I just want the best fights. The zero on my record doesn't matter to me. My biggest goal in boxing is just to be remembered. I don't want to be forgotten about. Whether I win seven or eight world championships, that will be in the history books and I just want to be remembered. That is my biggest goal. You do that by fighting the best."
Both men know that Khan likely looms for Saturday's winner.
"The winner will definitely have to fight Amir Khan," Bradley said. "If they don't do it, the media should put the pressure on them because I think that's the way it should go."
Alexander is not opposed to fighting Khan, but doesn't believe it must be next.
"Khan is an OK fighter. He's no big deal," Alexander said. "People are really making big hype about Amir Khan. I don't know what all the hype is about but he has a little power behind him. People think he is more than what I think he is. The winner of this fight doesn't have to go after Amir Khan. The winner of this fight is going to be No. 1 in the division. [Lightweight champ Juan Manuel] Marquez is a bigger fight than Khan, so it's not about chasing him.
"Amir Khan is not the cash cow at 140. I have a bigger following in St. Louis, just like he does in the UK, so we shouldn't be dwelling on Khan. I am seeking greatness. Whoever they think is the best. The question is: Will Khan take the fight? That's the problem. I think he's being pampered."
Beyond the winner possibly facing Khan, there is also the possibility of huge fights down the road with Pacquiao or Mayweather.
Bradley spent a lot of time last year trying to entice Pacquiao. Bradley only fought once last year, and when he did, he didn't defend his junior welterweight title. He moved up to welterweight as a test run to show the big names he could handle the weight, and he won a unanimous decision against Luis Carlos Abregu.
But Bradley returned to junior welterweight after that uneven performance and is focused on taking care of business in the deep junior welterweight division before eventually moving up.
"Not even thinking about [moving up]," Bradley said. "I want to seize the 140 pound titles. There is so much business to take care of at 140 before I would think about the Pacquiaos and the Mayweathers, which I would like to do. Each weight class needs one King and that's what we are going to do at 140."
Alexander is thinking the same way.
"As of right now, I'm taking care of business at 140 pounds," he said. "I am 23 and I'm starting to build muscle and getting stronger and stronger. Right now I am staying here but it would be up to my coach [Kevin Cunningham] and my promoter [Don King], and we'll take it from there."
Besides the whole young unbeaten/American/unification angle to the fight, most expect it to be a darn good fight.
Alexander and Bradley are both fast. They had strong amateur careers. They have skill and have shown heart. And while neither is a murderous puncher, each cracks enough to keep any opponent honest.
"I think it is going to be a very high-paced fight," Bradley said. "I throw a lot of punches and I know Devon throws a lot of punches. He throws about 80-100 punches per round. We are both going to be battling for position and dominance in the ring. The first couple rounds may be 'feel out' rounds and then it will start to get interesting toward the middle of the fight.
"Win or lose, the fight is going to be that great that I don't think anybody is going to lose out. The fact that we are willing to fight each other proves that we are willing to put our undefeated records on the line for the sake of boxing. I feel I am the best, he feels he is the best, so let's put these guys together and let them fight. Win or lose in this fight, I feel we are both going to be superstars after this fight."