Alexander and Cunningham also believe that dropping to 140 sapped his punching power, which in the boxing business is not just a tool to win fights, but a feature that draws crowds and profits. And right now not a lot of people think Devon Alexander delivers anything more than pitter-patter.

"The problem with Devon is he's not a big puncher," says Rafael, the ESPN writer. "He doesn't make exciting fights. His strength is his consummate boxing, fast hands, enough power to keep you honest, and sometimes that doesn't translate so great to TV. He's not gonna typically be the type of opponent you're gonna look at and say, 'Oh my God, he's gonna be in the fight of the year.'"

Marcos Maidana, 31-2 with 28 knockouts, has produced a good number of fight-of-the-year candidates. Three, in fact, over the past two-and-a-half years alone. During one of those, in June 2009, "Vicious" Victor Ortiz knocked Maidana down three times in the first two rounds. But Maidana recovered and pummeled Ortiz so badly that he quit midway through the sixth.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

Ortiz is a prime example of how a single fight can erase the "quitter" cat calls. He followed the Maidana loss by winning a savage four-knock-down brawl against undefeated star Andre Berto. And, just like that, five months later Ortiz found himself in a mega-fight with Mayweather. (He lost in a fourth-round knockout.)

After Alexander finishes sparring on this February afternoon, the talk in the gym turns to the big news of the day. Cunningham just got word that Bradley will fight Pacquiao in June. It is so obvious and painful that there is no need for anyone to mention the connection: In a parallel universe where Alexander defeats Bradley, this would be his match.

Cunningham posits that Bradley has a chance to win because he is such a slick boxer, difficult to hit. And nothing frustrates an aggressive fighter more than a slick boxer who is difficult to hit. Cunningham saw this first-hand when he trained Cory Spinks, one of the slipperiest boxers he's ever seen, to a world title.

The trainer and the ex-champ had a falling out a few years back. To Cunningham's mind, Spinks — a St. Louis phenom whose father and uncle made names for themselves in the heavyweight division a generation earlier — could never truly dedicate himself to the constant conditioning the sport requires. So now, six years after fighting main event championship bouts, Spinks is hobbling along on untelevised undercards before Alexander showcases or headlining matches at a Shriner's temple downstate in Springfield.

"If Cory had discipline, ain't nobody coulda hit him," says Cunningham. "You couldn't have hit him with a bag of rice. If he coulda said 'I'ma see how far I can take this,' man..."

He shakes his head.

Alexander has the discipline. But, the boxing world wonders, does he have the grit and talent to make it back to the top?

By now most everybody knows the story behind the Fighting Pride of St. Louis.

Seven-year-old Devon walks into the north St. Louis boxing gym that Cunningham, a former narcotics detective, is running for troubled youth in the basement of a vacant police substation. The kid burns through the amateurs and becomes a world champion in the pros by the time he's 22. Most everybody also knows the famous statistic: Of the 30 kids who trained beside Alexander under Kevin Cunningham's guidance, ten are now in prison. Nine are dead, swallowed by the violence of the St. Louis streets.

Alexander was 19 when he made his national television debut, winning the WBC youth welterweight title with a first-round knockout. He splashed onto the boxing scene a year-and-a-half later, after beating skilled veteran DeMarcus Corley in Madison Square Garden to win the WBC Continental Americas light welterweight title on the undercard of the Roy Jones Jr. v. Felix Trinidad pay-per-view.

In August 2009, he got his first big title shot, against Junior Witter, a slick Brit whose only losses had come from Zab Judah and Tim Bradley. Alexander took Witter to school, sticking and moving round after round, peppering him with so many stiff jabs and punishing him with so many jarring right hooks that Witter threw in the towel after the eighth.

Alexander burst into tears as Cunningham embraced him. He slept that night with his new WBC light welterweight championship belt cradled in his arms. When he returned to St. Louis, Mayor Francis G. Slay awarded him the key to the city.

In his first title defense seven months later, Alexander unleashed his fierce right uppercut and knocked out IBF light welterweight champion Juan Urango in the eighth round, adding that belt to his collection. It was the first time any man had KO'd the iron-chinned Colombian. The fight was as rugged as the ending was spectacular, with the boxers trading blows whenever Urango bulled inside Alexander's jab. But Alexander controlled the tempo, limiting those exchanges by gracefully sliding around the ring and firing off blistering combinations as Urango attempted to crowd him.

During the post-fight interview, Kellerman, the HBO commentator, praised Alexander, declaring, "You are choosing to fight in a laudable style. You're not running. You're not holding. You're choosing to do the hardest thing in boxing: stand right in front of your man, stick and counter."

« Previous Page
Next Page »