Alexander on precipice of stardom
Devon Alexander has come a long way since his childhood in a forbidding North St. Louis neighborhood, about a 20-minute drive from the arena – Scottrade Center – in which he fights Andreas Kotelnik on Saturday.
The 23-year-old junior welterweight titleholder is just getting started, though. He stands near the top of a talent-rich weight division that promises big fights and big money if he continues win. That’s a significant “if” at this level of boxing and he knows it. Thus, he is focused on two things: Kotelnik, a former titleholder himself, and the joy of fighting in front of a hometown crowd that has embraced him as a hero.
“I could never have imagined as a kid all these people coming out to support me,” Alexander told RingTV.com over the phone moments before the final news conference on Wednesday. “People constantly ask me for my autograph, to take pictures with me. Autographs? From a kid who grew up in North St. Louis? It’s just amazing.
“I never really thought I’d be in a situation like this.”
Alexander actually has believed for some time that he’d end up with a fancy belt around his waist.
The gifted southpaw became one of the best amateur boxers of his era after first walking into a gym at 7, reportedly finishing with a record in the neighborhood of 300-10. He narrowly missed earning a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic, losing to Rock Allen in the trials.
And he is known for his work ethic. Growing up, he trained religiously while many other kids found trouble – or worse.
“Where I come from, you don’t have too many dreams,” he said. “Success never crossed my mind at the beginning. I was just the type of person who liked to train hard. I liked to do stuff 100 percent. And, as I fought in the amateurs, I loved winning. I saw that you win when you train hard.
“It’s just a great feeling. I love it.”
Alexander (20-0, 13 knockouts) has known nothing but winning as a professional, passing every test as he has stepped up his opposition.
He easily outpointed veteran DeMarcus Corley in 2008, won his first major title at only 22 when talented Junior Witter quit after eight one-sided rounds claiming a hand injury and added a second belt when became the first to stop durable Juan Urango in March.
The victory over Urango, who many saw as the favorite going into the fight, lifted Alexander to elite status in the sport.
“I think that helped open eyes,” said Alexander, who KO’d Urango in the eighth round with two enormous uppercuts. “People were saying, ‘Can’t nobody knock him out.’ (Ricky) Hatton couldn’t. (Andre) Berto couldn’t. (Randall) Bailey couldn’t. I look at that as a big victory.
“I just have to continue moving forward, though, to continue to prove myself. Every time I win is not enough. I have to move forward.”
Alexander moves into a solid, well-schooled professional in Kotelnik (31-3-1, 13 KOs) on Saturday.
The St. Louisan and his longtime trainer, Kevin Cunningham didn’t show much respect for his Ukrainian counterpart on a recent conference call filled with trash talk but he knows the 2000 Olympic silver medalist is no pushover.
“It’s my job to make sure we’re not overlooking anybody,” Cunningham said. “ÔÇª Devon is a focused individual. I’m an extremely focused individual.”
However, it’s difficult to keep from looking at what might lie ahead. Alexander and Timothy Bradley reportedly are close to a deal on a fight in January, assuming Alexander beats Kotelnik.
Alexander-Bradley isn’t exactly Pacquiao-Mayweather but it’s a very big and lucrative matchup that has boxing purists salivating. Two dynamic young, undefeated fighters in their 20s rarely take such a risk these days.
The fighters are both on the precipice of stardom right now. The winner would be catapulted full-fledged star status, which comes with seven-figure paydays and worldwide exposure of which most boxers can only dream.
“That’s motivation for me,” said Alexander, referring to the prospect of a fight with Bradley. “I don’t trip over it. I just know what awaits me when I win this next fight – bigger and better things. Can I taste it? Defiinitely. What’s funny is that I don’t think of myself as a superstar or anything like that. People might see me that way. I’m just happy doing what I do, doing the best I can do.
“I have to say I’m happy that people are starting to recognize me. It’s a good thing for me.”