The Underdog’s Last Workout

by Peter Owen Nelson 

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday night, as the media congregated to eat steak at the hotel restaurant, Team Alexander quietly slipped out of the Auburn Hills Marriott to train at the Bad Boys Boxing Gym in nearby Royal Oak, Michigan. It would be the last shadowboxing, mitt work, and jump rope Devon Alexander (21-0) would perform before entering the locker room of the Silverdome Saturday night to face Timothy Bradley (26-0) in a junior welterweight title unification bout.

David Martin-Warr / Don King Productions,Inc.

Though an underdog, Alexander is by no means considered a long shot for victory. Almost any prediction surrounding this fight is tempered with qualifications and the hedging of bets. That said, they almost all break Bradley’s way:

According to the bookies, Bradley is close to a 2-1 favorite.

According to Amir Khan (the third alphabet champion in the division), Bradley will edge out a victory. Of the same opinion are fighters Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver, and Kendall Holt, who lost a decision to Bradley despite dropping him twice in their fight April 4, 2009.

According to a poll of 10 boxing experts conducted by writer Lem Satterfield, not one picked Alexander (though other notables who have picked Alexander include Satterfield himself and ESPN’s Dan Rafael).

So despite the consensus about against Alexander’s death foretold approaching unanimity, he still decided to train on the upper floor of a snow-capped strip mall. When asked about odds, the 23-year-old St. Louis native smiled and said, “It’s all motivation.”

“I’ve never seen this kid this focussed,” said Alexander’s trainer Kevin Cunningham. He continued, “For fifteen years, I’ve been with him for every fight and I’ve never seen him like this. All he wants to do is run, sleep, train, and talk strategy.”

The paring down of activities during fight week is a welcome change for Alexander, who was sacked with intensive promotional responsibilities for his fight in St. Louis last May, a narrow decision victory over former champion and Olympic silver medalist Andriy Kotelnik. For that fight week, Alexander ran a media gantlet that included throwing out the first pitch at a Cardinals’ game, speaking with the St. Louis Rams, and granting a spate of interviews. 

While the promotion succeeded in generating ticket sales, Cunningham believes, “It was simply too much. This time, there’s none of that. All his energy is being conserved for Bradley.” Alexander himself sees the fatigue that he exhibited in the Kotelnik fight, “as a blessing in disguise. If they [Team Bradley] are only watching the Kotelnik tape…if they judge me off that, they got another thing coming.”

At stake in this fight is supremacy of the 140 pound division, widely considered the most talent-rich in boxing with Alexander, Bradley, Khan, as well as Marcos Maidana, Victor Ortiz, Zab Judah, and Lamont Peterson. A victor would likely catapult to the top five on many writers’ mythical “pound for pound” lists, putting him in the same conversation as the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Sergio Martinez, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquiao. That conversation is potentially worth millions in the subsequent fight that could result from it, namely landing the victor a shot against Mayweather or Pacquiao. 

As HBO commentator Jim Lampley recently pointed out, Bradley-Alexander is reminiscent of Mayweather’s fight against Diego Corrales or Jermain Taylor’s against Kelly Pavlik, in that two elite undefeated Americans are going toe-to-toe. Unlike those fights, however, both Alexander and Bradley have titles on the line and the last time two undefeated American champions fought was Mike Tyson against Tony Tucker in 1987 — the same year in St. Louis that Devon Alexander was born.

As Alexander wrapped up with a few rounds on the speedbag, a last rep of sit-ups, and 10 minutes of jump rope, his entourage applauded the completion of his training. Cunningham and his charge exchanged a look in silence before Alexander headed out into the Michigan winter, and the trainer led the way after saying three words with a nod: “Devon is ready.”