He's been that way all his life. The fourth youngest of thirteen kids, Alexander grew up sharing a bedroom with two brothers. His dad worked at a grocery store. His mom was a day care provider.

"Devon's always been a kid that really didn't need to hang out with the crowd," says Darryl Bradley, his eighth-grade science teacher and a certified chiropractor who now serves as the fighter's doctor during training. "He has a really good family support system, and coming from the neighborhood we were from, that was really lacking."

When Alexander recalls his days amid the crime, gangs and drugs of Hyde Park, he sometimes notes tragic details with a sheepish grin that a psychiatrist might diagnose as "developed desensitization" but friends might chalk up to his inherently cheerful disposition.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

"I used to spar with my friend Terrance— he's dead now— and he used to make me cry, hit me in the nose," he says.

Alexander instantly took to boxing, showing up at the gym every day after school. He won his first tournament at the age of 10 and the Golden Gloves Junior title at 14.

"Once we started boxing, oh my god, that was all we did," says his 30-year-old brother Lamar, who also boxed under Cunningham and now works as his assistant trainer.

It was in eighth grade when Alexander missed his first day of training. Cunningham got word that he was trying out for the basketball team, even though he had a tournament coming up. So he got in his van and went straight to the school.

"Lemme tell you something," Cunningham told him as they drove back to the gym. "You got an opportunity to be one of the best young fighters in the country. You could be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, or you can focus, do it all the way and be a master at boxing."

Alexander hasn't missed a day of training since.

He became one of the stars of Cunningham's renowned stable of boxers. At a 2002 Silver Gloves tourney, three of Cunningham's fighters took home belts. Alexander was one of those fighters. The other two are no longer boxing. Quintin Gray got a life sentence for murder, and Willie Ross was murdered.

In 2004, after rattling off a 298-12 amateur record and accumulating numerous titles, 17-year old Alexander was the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Olympic trials tournament. He lost a controversial decision to 21-year-old Rock Allen. Cunningham was furious. He believed that U.S.A. Boxing's shot callers favored Allen because they wanted to send a veteran fighter to Athens.

The fight would be Alexander's last as an amateur.

"The next punch you throw," Cunningham told his fighter that day, "you'll be getting a check for it."

A few fights into Alexander's pro career, his father, then in his early 50s, died of prostate cancer. It was the worst day of his life, he says. Lamar, immensely distraught that he would never again see his father ringside, retired from the sport. Devon did the opposite.

"He dealt with his father's passing by driving deeper into his training, deeper into boxing," says Cunningham. "He escaped."

About a year later, Alexander's older brother Vaughn, whom he followed into Cunningham's gym at age seven, was convicted for armed robbery and assault. Even these days, each time Alexander visits his brother at Potosi Correctional Center, it takes a little bit out of him. Vaughn is currently seven years into an eighteen-year sentence.

"I hate having to drive an hour-and-a-half to see my brother, when I used to wake up to him every day," says Alexander. "I can't wait for the day he gets out."

Alexander admits he doesn't have many friends outside of his family. One time early in his pro career he caught a guy he considered a friend trying to steal $600 from his home.

"I told him, 'Just give it up and get out,'" he says, maintaining that constant smile. "That's why I don't have many friends. I have associates. I have enough brothers that I don't need too many friends."

Alexander's phone buzzes. Someone has emailed him a link to an article headlined, "Team Victor Ortiz Eye the Alexander vs. Maidana Winner." He lets out an amused laugh. He still finds it surreal that people he's never met talk and write about him.

He turns on the TV and flips to CNN, where Anderson Cooper and David Gergen are analyzing the results from today's Florida Republican presidential primary.

"Mitt Romney pays nearly no taxes!" Alexander blurts, soaking in the experience of being the one talking about rather than the one talked about.

"I was kind of skeptical of Republicans on the tax bracket," he says. "I remember when I was growing up in north St. Louis, I kept thinking about how unfair it was that there were some rich people out there paying less taxes than what people around me were paying."

He pauses and the smile widens.

"But now that I'm in this tax bracket, I'll give it to the Republicans on that one," he jokes.

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