By Jake Donovan
Photo © David Martin Warr
Think back to your junior and senior year in high school. Cramming for test, particularly mid-terms and year-end finals, in hopes of maintaining or improving your GPA while seeking acceptance to the higher learning location of your choice. Taking your significant other to the prom, or even building up the nerve to ask someone. Chillin' with your crew after school, at night, on weekends, whenever a free moment presented itself.
You think on it, and recall how tough it was to maintain the juggling act.
Now try to imagine squeezing in a boxing career on top of all of that.
Devon Alexander didn't just maintain, he excelled at the highest level.
Not missing a beat in school or in the ring, Alexander racked up national championships in the amateur ranks and already started punching for pay before crossing the stage at Vashon High School in St. Louis, MO to accept his High School diploma, graduating on time in 2005.
Among his lofty amateur credentials include: an eye-popping record of 300-10; four-time Silver Gloves champ from ages 10-14; three-time PAL National Champion; Junior Golden Gloves and Junior Olympics national champion, the latter of which he also received "Best Boxer" accolades; 2003 US National Champion in the 19-and-under division; 2004 US National Champion; and making it to the final round of the 2004 Olympic trials, where he battled Rock Allen to a draw before losing on a tie-breaker.
Coming thisclose to making the Olympics, Alexander, still a junior in High School but having already garnered all there was to achieve in the amateur ranks, decided to make his pro debut. He was 17 at the time, scoring his first win and knockout, a 1 st round stoppage over Vincent Torres in Sault St. Marie, MI, before making his hometown debut two weeks later.
It was another eight months before Alexander would receive his next pro assignment, this on a far bigger stage than he could ever imagine. Stablemate Cory Spinks, then-reigning linear welterweight champion, was bringing his title back to 'Da Lou for a much anticipated rematch with Zab Judah. Promoter Don King went to work, taking advantage of the NHL strike in 2004-05 in turning the homecoming into an event not just sold out, but packed beyond capacity, with well over 22,000 pouring into the Savvis Center.
Things didn't turn out so well for Cory, as he lost his title via 9 th round stoppage. But St. Louis would go 1-1 for the evening, with Devon passing a huge test with flying colors, scoring a shutout win over durable veteran Donovan Castaneda. The returns on his performance were near unanimous with glowing reviews. Among the lot, just one who wasn't completely satisfied with Alexander's performance – Alexander himself.
"I was a tad disappointed with my performance," was Alexander's self-assessment at the time, five days from his 18 th birthday and still three months from graduation. "It was my first six-round fight… but I learned a lot. Down the line, going six rounds will be a good thing for me."
It's been all good ever since, good enough for Alexander to earn the moniker "Alexander The Great", a label offered by BoxingTalk.com publisher Greg Leon. Not that Devon had any trouble earning it on his own. The only problem he did have, was garnering airtime, with his first ten bouts (going 10-0, with 5KO) all going down before the cameras were turned on.
That changed in March 2007, when Alexander landed the co-feature slot on Showtime's ShoBox telecast. The bout didn't come without its share of drama. Alexander was initially scheduled to face undefeated Marvin Cordova Jr., but wound up facing late-replacement Scott Ball. Alexander made the most of it, blitzing through Ball, dropping him twice in forcing a knockout a minute into the 7 th round of their scheduled eight.
Another ShoBox appearance was promised, but Alexander was instead forced to accept non-televised assignments in his last two bouts. His most recent appearance, a 1 st round knockout of Cory Peterson last October, was so far off-TV, it came and went before most fans had a chance to enter the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL.
But the performance spoke for itself, as Alexander made quick work of the normally durable and previously unbeaten Peterson, dropping him twice, the 2 nd knockdown prompting the referee to wave the fight off just one second prior to the conclusion of the opening round.
The bout was enough to convince promoter Don King that the kid was ready for prime-time, a notion longtime trainer Kevin Cunningham had insisted throughout 2007.
"Devon's been making tremendous progress," insists Cunningham, who has trained Alexander ever since the St. Louis protégé first entered his boxing gym, at age 7. "He's always been extremely quick, but is now settling down more on his punches. Coming out of the amateurs, he was still geared more toward boxing, and just touching your opponent like they teach in those ranks.
"But now he's becoming a more mature fighter. His last five fights have shown that (all won by knockout), and we've been ready for a step up."
Ask and ye shall receive, or at least eventually when you're among Don King's stable. Alexander makes his PPV debut this weekend, appearing in the opening bout of the Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad HBO PPV telecast, where he will face former junior welterweight titlist DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley. On paper, the bout serves as the toughest test to date for Alexander, who is well aware of what's at stake.
" This is the biggest fight in my life — and it ain't the last one," insists Alexander. "I know I need to step it up for this fight. It's also a big honor for me to be fighting for the first time at Madison Square Garden, a dream come true for me. "
Not that the dream ends here.
"This is just the beginning for Devon," says Cunningham. "This fight is perfect for him. After the Peterson fight, we said we wanted someone like Corley. By that, I mean a veteran and former world champion-type, it didn't actually have to be Corley."
Perhaps King took him too literally?
"The original opponent was Miguel Callist, but he fell out. With Corley being in the DK stable, we didn't just get a Corley-type, but the actual fighter. It's a big step up, but he's been ready for it. Devon will impress on Saturday night."
From there, the course of progression would have Alexander facing divisional gatekeepers, followed by Top 10 contenders before challenging and beating world champions. How soon in his career that will come or how far he will go, remains to be seen. But comparing his progress to that any of his stablemates, particularly the most popular and most established of the bunch, Cory Spinks, and it's clear that the sky's not only the limit, but already within reach.
"One's not better than the other, Cory's damn good at what he do and Devon at his thing" said Cunningham, respectfully refusing to choose between his kids in that regard. "But it's obvious that Devon at 20-years old and 13-fights into his career is further along than where Cory was at the same point.
"We saw what Cory's done, and still does, and know what Devon will do. He's the goods."
And well on his way to being The Great.
Jake Donovan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and the Tennessee Boxing Advisory Board. His column runs every Tuesday on BoxingScene.com.
Please feel free to submit any comments or questions to Jake at [email protected].