PONTIAC, Mich. -- All the hype and all the hope for a classic fight between young, undefeated American champions went up in smoke.
Sure, Timothy Bradley Jr. emerged from his junior welterweight unification fight with Devon Alexander with two world title belts after winning a 10th-round technical decision before 6,247 at the Silverdome on Saturday night, but those looking for a definitive answer to the question of who is the best 140-pounder in the world did not get one.
It was a close fight all the way with few rounds being won definitively by either man, but Alexander got the worst of a series of accidental head butts that changed the fight.
One of them opened a cut over his right eye in the third round, which referee Frank Garza ruled from a punch, although it was clearly a head butt on replays.
There were other head butts throughout the fight, too, which is common when matching a right-handed fighter (Bradley) with a southpaw (Alexander). But in the 10th round, they collided heads again and Alexander was clearly hurt by it. After ringside doctor Peter Samet examined Alexander, he recommended that Garza stop the fight at 1 minute, 59 seconds.
"The last thing I told the referee before the fight was that Timmy's last six opponents have been cut by head butts. I told him, I told him, I told him," said a frustrated Kevin Cunningham, Alexander's trainer and manager.
Judge Omar Mintun scored it 98-93, Duane Ford had it 97-93 and Tom Miller had it 96-95. ESPN.com also had it for Bradley, 97-93.
"We were both coming in trying to land the big shot," Bradley said.
It was a disappointing end to a somewhat disappointing fight, especially after the considerable, and well-deserved, hype it had received.
It was not only a fight between two of the best American fighters in boxing, but it was the first unification fight between two undefeated Americans in 24 years and only the third ever. The others were Mike Tyson against Tony Tucker in a 1987 heavyweight championship unification bout and Donald Curry against Milton McCrory in a 1985 welterweight unification clash.
Those fights didn't live up to the hype and neither did this one.
Bradley (27-0, 11 KOs), a 27-year-old from Palm Springs, Calif., however, was -- of course -- thrilled to win back a belt he had once held before being stripped.
"If that's the best in the world, that's weak," Bradley said of Alexander.
He blamed Alexander, 23, of St. Louis, for causing the collisions.
"He jumped in," Bradley said. "He just didn't want to get hit by the big shot. Both of us were coming in, going back and forth throughout the fight. He's a tough, tough warrior. He will be a champion again. Give Alexander time and he will box you to pieces. I didn't give him that time."
"I thought Bradley was way too strong for him and he backed him up," said Gary Shaw, Bradley's co-promoter. "I said Devon couldn't fight backing up. I thought he was much stronger than Devon. He was almost equally as fast. Devon has very fast hands.
"But Bradley is older, more mature and has faced a better class of fighters."
However, neither fighter really seemed to be able to get off.
Bradley landed some solid right hands, including one near the end of the ninth round that left the cut over Alexander's eye spewing blood.
But Alexander also connected with his share of shots even though the fight never found a groove. Round after round, it seemed like it might erupt into a good scrap, but it never really took off.
And then it was short-circuited when the final head butt left Alexander dazed and unable to see out of his left eye, which was damaged from the 10th-round head clash.
"He literally could not open his eye," Samet said. "It was more than a cut. I was worried that it was a nerve and that his eye was paralyzed. That's why I stopped the fight."
Alexander (21-1, 13 KOs) was disappointed.
"I couldn't see after the head butt," said Alexander, who was credited by CompuBox with landing 129 of 475 punches (27 percent) to Bradley's 128 of 419 (31 percent). "He's got a big head. He came at me full force. My eye was burning. I couldn't see."
HBO's deal with the fighters and their promoters says it has an option for a rematch. Alexander wants it.
"He didn't stop me from using my skills, no excuses," Alexander said. "The contract says I get a rematch [if HBO wants]. I want a rematch with Timmy Bradley."
It won't be that easy.
HBO has been deeply involved in the junior welterweight division, which includes several quality fighters besides Bradley and Alexander: titleholder Amir Khan, former titlist Zab Judah, Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz among them. But the network has made no secret of its desire to match Saturday's winner -- Bradley -- with Khan in July. Khan would have to win an April 16 in a fight in his native England against an opponent to be determined.
"I'd love for him to fight Khan," Shaw said. "But my first choice would be Floyd Mayweather Jr. If we can't get Floyd, we will sit down with HBO and (Golden Boy Promotions CEO) Richard Schaefer and make the Khan fight. I believe I have the best 140-pounder in the world."
Maybe so, but after Saturday night at least, it is by no means definitive.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.