The Corner Man

Your boy wonder lost his title and won't take your calls. What's a trainer to do? Find another prodigy.

"It's changed me since I won [at Savvis]," he imparts, slipping on a pair of Jordan sandals. "Everybody started to notice me. People ask me for autographs on the street. Girls -- I can't get rid of 'em!"

Alexander, who recently turned eighteen, is the proud owner of a green Ford Escort, which he steers to his mother's house in a neighborhood just south of Tower Grove Park, or, more often, to his uncle's place on the north side, where he can avoid the crush of siblings -- he's one of fifteen -- not to mention nieces and nephews, at his mom's. His father died of prostate cancer a few years back.

Sharon Alexander recalls sending Devon to box with Cunningham at age seven, but she was surprised to discover he had a knack for the sport. "It wasn't something we put him and his brothers into to get money later on or even to be a career," she says. "This was my thing to keep him out of trouble during the summer and keep him out of my hair."

Devon "Alexander the Great," Kevin Cunningham's 
new golden boy, graduates from Vashon next week.
Jennifer Silverberg
Devon "Alexander the Great," Kevin Cunningham's new golden boy, graduates from Vashon next week.
Despite the partisan crowd, Cory Spinks (right) fell to 
Zab Judah on February 5.
Scott Rovak/US Presswire
Despite the partisan crowd, Cory Spinks (right) fell to Zab Judah on February 5.

Says Cunningham: "At that age you teach them the basic fundamentals and instill discipline and moral values. We'd go over the same type of spiel about values every day before they did their calisthenics. They'd have to bring me their report cards quarterly. If it was bad, I'd sit down with the teachers and principal and see what we had to do to get them back on the right track."

Cunningham seems never to tire of touting his young star's academic prowess, in particular the fact that Devon will graduate with his class next month. (Two of Devon's older brothers, Lamar and Vaughn, work at Cunningham's gym and boast pro records of 10-1 and 5-0, respectively. "Lamar and Vaughn are talented also. Devon's just a little more focused," Cunningham assesses.)

Alexander says he intends to study business administration at a community college at some point, but not right now. When he talks about his future, he sounds a lot like his trainer: "Boxing taught me that hard work comes back to you. I don't really trip off of not being able to go to all the parties, because I already know that in the long run it'll pay off."

"That kid grew up in the ghetto and has never had a fight in his life outside the boxing ring," Cunningham marvels. "Kids like Devon come along once in a lifetime."

Divorced when his son was five, Kenneth Cunningham bounced around places like California and Texas while Kevin's mother stayed in St. Louis, holding down the fort and making light bulbs at the General Electric plant on Etzel Avenue.

A longtime American Airlines employee, Kenneth eventually made it back, directing aircraft to the gates of Lambert Field. He retired on disability in the late 1990s and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 2000. "My mom was our mother and our father," says Cunningham's sister, Nawon Thomas. "We just had each other."

"He used to get drunk and fight in the bars all the time," Cunningham says of his dad. "He was an alcoholic, and that's what killed him.

"I think it bothered me a lot when I was young -- that my dad left, being raised by my mother only," he continues. "But then again I think it made me stronger too. I grew up fast."

"I noticed that he was more mature with his thinking than most of my other kids were," recalls Maurine Smith, Cunningham's mother. "Sometimes when I would take him to buy clothes, if it cost too much he would tell me, 'Don't buy it.' This was when he was about ten or eleven."

As a youth Cunningham kept busy with football and baseball, even if academics didn't interest him much. He dabbled in boxing, deciding early on to limit fighting to the ring or self-defense. "I never got in big trouble as a kid," he says. "Maybe little trouble -- I was known to get in a fight or two 'cause I never let people step on my toes or run me over. I was known to throw a couple blows in the street, but that was it."

He graduated from Sumner High and put in a year at Forest Park Community College before joining the army. After a stint at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he earned a certificate in criminal justice from an overseas branch of Central Texas College while serving in South Korea.

All the while he was boxing -- if only because it beat the alternative.

"I was a field artilleryman, and we would be in the woods for 30 days at a time," he explains. "After doing that a couple times, I said, 'I've got to figure out something else to do.' One day I went by the boxing gym and they were having open trials. They put me in there with a guy who weighed about the same, and I beat his butt. A week later I was transferred to the boxing team. I went from wearing fatigues to wearing a warm-up suit and traveling around the country boxing."

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