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Boxer Devon Alexander tells children he made it — and they can too

He grew up in a tough part of St. Louis where crime and violence have taken down others, including one of his brothers. He has a bout against Timothy Bradley on Saturday in a title-unification fight of unbeaten junior welterweights.

January 28, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Devon Alexander will face Timothy Bradley in a junior-welterweight title unification bout at the Silverdome on Saturday.
Devon Alexander will face Timothy Bradley in a junior-welterweight title… (Carlos Osorio / Associated…)

Reporting from Detroit — Three boys used to have the same routine inside the small North St. Louis gym. Train under the caring eyes of the former policeman trying to make a difference, stay off the street and aspire to a life beyond the fear, despair and violence outside.

Terrance Barker was one. They buried him last year, after a domestic assault probe led police to surround his apartment complex and he committed suicide. Vaughn Alexander was another. He was involved in two robberies and is in prison.

Devon Alexander, Vaughn's brother, was that third boy. Yet he survived living in that part of town — one his mentor and co-trainer Kevin Cunningham calls "The Black Hole."

"I come from a rough part of the neighborhood," said Alexander, who Saturday night puts his world junior-welterweight title on the line in an HBO fight at Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome against unbeaten Timothy Bradley of Palm Springs.

"You wake up knowing anything can happen. You could be shot, get in a fight. You hear ambulances every 30 minutes where I live."

Alexander (21-0, 13 knockouts) knows that beating Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs) in the first title-unification bout between unbeaten Americans in nearly 25 years won't be easy.

"He'll try to bully me from the first bell, but he'll be surprised how fast I am and how I'll hit him so much," Alexander said.

At Friday's weigh-in Alexander came in at 140 pounds and Bradley at 139.5. Alexander, the taller of the two, smiled through Bradley's menacing glare.

Alexander fights with a rapid jab and crafty skill but also with a purpose: to show the kids in his neighborhood it is possible to escape the violence and succeed in life.

After retaining his WBC belt in March with an eighth-round technical knockout of Juan Urango, Alexander said a publicist for his promoter, Don King, suggested he spread that message.

"That's what I've been trying to do all along," Alexander said. "I want to change kids' lives: If I did it, you can do it."

Alexander is one of 13 siblings, and both parents were there for him as he matured.

They were for Vaughn too, but Vaughn "fell victim to what my mom told us not to do, and he's facing the consequences," Alexander said.

Lamar Alexander is one of those siblings and also is his brother's co-trainer.

"He wants the violence to stop, because at the rate we're going, we'll have a lack of anyone good coming out of there: doctors, lawyers, judges," Lamar said. "Devon says, 'If I save one kid, I've done some work.' "

The 23-year-old boxer's focus has been St. Louis, where the superintendent of public schools has scheduled him to address students once a month.

"I can relate to them," Alexander said. "I went without eating, had holes in my pants, no socks, grew up around drugs. I feel where they're coming from, and I tell them, 'Don't think you can't make it because of your situation now.' "

He said he tells the students that accomplishment begins with knowledge — if you can't read, you can't understand a contract, to learn math, science, history, be a productive person.

"I'd love to take it elsewhere," Alexander said of his push to help such kids.

Said Cunningham: "That's why this fight is so important."

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