Saturday, August 1, 2009

Devon Alexander Eyes the Future

Devon Alexander pounds away at the speed-bag in an effort to ensure he is ready for his world title shot.

By the time 22-year-old Devon Alexander skips up the steps, slinks through the ropes and slides into the ring tonight against England's Junior “The Hitter” Witter, his young eyes will already have seen more than most will see in a lifetime.

Recruited into the world of boxing as a seven-year-old second grader by his trainer, Kevin Cunningham (who once roamed the halls and kept the peace as a police officer at Alexander's elementary school) he has lived a life that few do.

After streaking to an amateur record of 300 wins against 10 losses and while winning nearly every title there was in the unpaid ranks, he turned to full-time prizefighting only a few months after his seventeenth birthday.

Growing up, his eyes saw the worst that the streets of North St. Louis had to offer. It's a place where gunshots and killing are simply part of the daily routine. On Wednesday alone, there were two murders in the neighborhood that Devon Alexander's family calls home. The St. Louis police found one man who had been shot to death while sitting in his car. The other was gunned down as he exited a halfway house.

Alexander was reared there, where violence is the norm. It's a place where drug dealers and gangs lay claim not just to street corners, but to entire neighborhoods. It's a place where the social contract has been horribly broken. It's a place where human life has little value and it's just the type of place that Thomas Hobbes once wrote about, where life is “nasty, brutish and short.”

"Alexander The Great" (left) pounds away on former world titlist DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley.

It's also the same neighborhood that saw brothers Leon and Michael Spinks flee from the dungeons known as the Pruitt-Igoe housing project to win gold medals at the 1976 Olympic Games and go on to become world renowned hall of famers.

“Growing up I heard gunshots every day and night,” explained Alexander of his upbringing. “It's a place where when you hear a gunshot you drop down to the floor or to the ground and you give yourself a quick check to make sure none of the bullets hit you.”

North St. Louis has pushed Devon Alexander to Rancho Mirage, California. It has pushed him into a ring at the Agua Caliente Casino where he will face-off against Junior Witter for the World Boxing Council's green belt at 140-pounds. It has pushed him to a sparkling pro record of 18-0 with 11 knockouts. It has pushed him to fight for a better life for his 12 brothers and sisters and for his own son and daughter. It has pushed him to remember his father, who passed away five years ago.

“It means a lot to me...all of this,” said the handsome Alexander of his boxing career and his first shot at a championship belt. “You know, I started boxing when I was seven-years-old and me and my trainer, Kevin Cunningham, have been together since day one. I come from a place where most of the people end up in jail or they end up dead. This is a tremendous opportunity that God has blessed me with, to find myself here and to be fighting for a world title.”

But Alexander's eyes are on more than the prized green belt of the WBC. He envisions the fight against Witter as the vehicle that will help his family escape the larceny, the assaults, the arsons and the violence that they have all had to endure while merely trying to live life. Like the Spinks brothers before him, Alexander sees a better life outside the neighborhood that he has so far been able to defy.

Interestingly, one of Alexander's closest friends (and sparring partner) is Cory Spinks, Leon's son, and they have the same trainer in Cunningham. Alexander literally grew up training beside Cory who won world titles at 147 pounds and is the current IBF 154-pound titlist. Alexander has seen what money, notoriety and fighting on television can do to improve one's circumstances and he's eager to improve his lot in life as well.

“There's 13 kids in my family including me,” he explains. “I'm the only one that is going to be able to change my family's direction and give them more opportunities to be able to succeed in life. I want to be able to show them a different life, a different way of life.”

While things have gone well so far for Alexander, his boxing career hasn't been perfect. He missed out on the 2004 Olympic Games when he was beaten by Rock Allen in a tie-breaker in the finals of the Olympic trials. But Alexander thinks he will be as close to perfect as he can be tonight and he explains that he is as focused on Witter as he has been any opponent.

“I've watched his fights on tape, I've studied him,” says Alexander. “But I'm a natural southpaw and I've got speed and I've got power and I can box or I can punch. I know that Witter is experienced and a very good, slick boxer. But when that bell rings I'm going to show him. I've boxed right alongside and with Cory Spinks and nobody is slicker than him. Junior Witter isn't going to be able to show me anything that I haven't seen before.”

And like we said at the beginning, Devon Alexander's eyes have already seen more than most will see in a lifetime.

August 2009

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