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The Ring Proved a Refuge For Devon Alexander



For most people, the boxing ring might seem a dangerous place. The guy in the other corner is trying to hit you and, if he does it often enough and hard enough, he just might knock you out.

Every fighter knows what it’s like to walk on the wild side, and every fighter accepts pain as the price he must pay for doing what he does, whether he does it well or not. But there are areas far more foreboding than a roped-off swatch of canvas, and greater risks to take than swapping punches with a gloved opponent with a flashy record and putaway power. There are, after all, rules to be observed in boxing and a referee to enforce them.

For a lot of highly accomplished fighters, the streets where they grew up were tougher to survive than anything their blood sport could throw at them. In the harsher precincts of certain cities, kids must cope with the everyday reality of gangs, drugs, guns, poverty and despair. Some are fortunate enough to rise above their circumstances; many do not. Those who give up fall victim to an early death, or addiction, or long periods of incarceration. When that happens, they surrender the opportunity to achieve something better and become, well, statistics.

For IBF welterweight champion Devon Alexander (24-1, 13 KOs), who puts his title on the line against England’s Lee Purdy (20-3-1, 13 KOs) Saturday night in the Showtime-televised co-feature in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, the ring was a safe haven and the man who introduced him to boxing, former St. Louis cop Kevin Cunningham (seen on right, with Alexander, left, in above Hogan photo), a lifeline. Those few hours the 7-year-old Alexander spent in the gym every day with Cunningham, who remains his trainer, opened his eyes to the possibility that some dreams actually can come true for those with a strong enough will to succeed, and a strong enough vision to see beyond today.

“The bond I have with Kevin is unbreakable,” says Alexander, now 26, who admits that he is fighting for far more these days than purses and a bejeweled belt. “As I got older, I realized Kevin wasn’t just any boxing coach. He was a blessing to me, and my family.

“Before he started the gym (in the crime-infested Hyde Park section of St. Louis), I wasn’t doing anything and I wasn’t going anywhere. I had no sense of direction, no real purpose. I didn’t know what the future might hold; I wasn’t even thinking about the future then. Why would I? I was just a little kid. But kids not much older than me in my neighborhood were already living a rough lifestyle, a wrong lifestyle. Then again, when you’re that young, you really don’t have a sense of what’s right and wrong anyway. You grow up only knowing what you’re exposed to.

“Me being around Kevin made me realize my situation – my potential situation – wasn’t good at all. He taught me there was so much more out there than just St. Louis, or my particular part of St. Louis. He expanded my horizons. I came to understand just how special a person and how much of a friend Kevin was to me and kids like me. Who knows where I’d be now if it weren’t for Kevin? Would I be boxing? I really don’t know. I just know I’m thankful he came into my life.”

Lest anyone think that Cunningham routinely works such miracles, he is quick to point out that not everyone is as open to instruction or as fiercely determined to make good as Alexander. But when Alexander broke through to the top, he became a shining example to others of what could be, not necessarily of the vicious cycle that so many believe they are incapable of breaking.

“It’s huge,” Cunningham said of his prize pupil’s avoidance of the familiar traps into which so many Hyde Park kids fall into. “Any time you have a young man who comes from a disadvantaged background and can provide him with a positive outlet, that’s a good thing. It’s the kind of success story you always like to hear about. Me starting the boxing program, my goal was to help create more of those kind of success stories. It doesn’t always work out as well for everyone as it has for Devon, but I know that it can send a hopeful message.

“I’m glad I was able to help him, and he’s helped me as well. He’s a special person.”

More than a few big-time fighters have been where Alexander and Cunningham have been, and many of them speak of the benefits they have derived in winning their battles, large and small, in the ongoing war against the drudgery of a life on the street. But while words can be useful, actions that generate hope are even more so. Alexander and Cunningham put their time and money where their mouths are, and more importantly, where their hearts are. Maybe that’s because they know that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t save every at-risk child in Hyde Park, or places like Hyde Park.

Of the 30 original members of Cunningham’s boxing club, nine are now dead, and several others are behind bars. Nor has Alexander’s immediate family been spared the heartache of poor choices made. Devon, one of 13 children, first went to Cunningham’s gym as a tag-along with an older brother, Vaughn, who was 5-0, with four knockouts, as a promising junior middleweight. But Vaughn’s professional career came to an abrupt halt when he took part in an armed robbery, for which he was arrested and convicted. He is now serving an 18-year prison sentence, the fact of which is a constant reminder to Devon that more can and must be done. Oh, sure, he is a world champion again, but he wants to use that highly visible platform to become the sort of inspiring figure that Cunningham was to him.

“It’s my No. 1 priority,” Alexander said of the mantle of role-model he has so vigorously assumed. “I was in that environment. I lived and breathed it every day. It was all around me. I’m a witness to the drugs, the gangs, the violence, the killing … all of it. I’m a victim of that, or rather, I could have been a victim of that. Kids need to know there’s a different way, a better way. Kevin gave me a chance to see other possibilities.

“If you allow yourself to do it, you can become almost immune to what’s going on around you. It becomes so familiar you fall into, you know, a rut. I go into my old neighborhood now and see kids doing the same bad things the kids before them were doing. It’s sad. It’s hard to mentor kids, to get them to change those habits, but it can be done. Kevin showed me that, and I want to show kids who are where I was when he showed me. You have to get to kids early, and that’s what I want to do. That’s my mission. That’s my passion.”

It is Devon’s mission and passion outside the ropes that makes Cunningham realize that great things can be accomplished if the right seed is planted in the right mind. If you toss a pebble into a brook, do not the ripples expand? And so this team of chance, the now-grown-up kid and his longtime mentor, continue to spread the message that education and a healthy lifestyle, of both body and mind, represent the path to ultimate fulfillment.

“For Devon to rise up to what he has is a total blessing,” Cunningham said. “To go from where he was, a kid just starting out in the boxing program so he would have something positive to do after school and to stay off the street, and for that kid to advance to national tournaments and three world titles … it’s everything I ever could have hoped for. It’s even more than that. It’s like a little miracle.

“I’m so proud that Devon is a positive presence in the community. He speaks regularly at high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools in St. Louis, telling those kids they don’t have to fall into the traps of gangs and drugs and crime. He takes pride in being the right kind of role model for young people who come from the same places he came from. His message is that you don’t have to be a boxer or a football player or a basketball player to make it. Just stay focused, put the time in on your studies and you can be successful at whatever it is you choose to be.”

But for Alexander to maintain the platform from which he spreads those encouraging words, he realizes he must continue to win in the ring. And Purdy, a fill-in for another Englishman, the injured Kell Brook, isn’t disposed to make it easy for the man known as “Alexander the Great.”

“I’m a big puncher and if I catch him, it will be `game over,’” Purdy said.

There has been talk – quite a bit of talk, actually – that Alexander, provided he wins this fight, will be next in line for a megabucks unification showdown with WBC welterweight king Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is widely acknowledged as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. But looking past your immediate opponent represents the same sort of pitfall that awaits the kids in Hyde Park every day. To make a poor choice is one thing; to make two is a pattern, and destructive patterns can be difficult to change.

Alexander insists he was “not mentally into” his only defeat as a pro, a points loss to Timothy Bradley in a 140-pound unification matchup on Jan. 29, 2011, and he said he will not make the same mistake again. “Money” Mayweather is not the guy he’s facing Saturday; Lee Purdy is. And that makes Lee Purdy the most important fight of Alexander’s career.

“When I was an amateur, I fought this guy who supposedly had no chance against me,” recalled Alexander, who posted a reported 300-10 record in the medals and trophies phase of his boxing development. “Everybody thought I’d get him out of there in the first round. In the first minute of the first round, probably. But he was a lot better than I expected. He gave me a hard fight. I was, like, `Man, I got told wrong about this dude.’

“That fight convinced me you can’t take anybody lightly. That man across the ring from you is there for a reason. He’s coming to win, and if you’re not as prepared as you need to be, he will win.”

As for a much-discussed shot at Mayweather, well, that is another topic for another day.

“I lot of people ask me about that,” Alexander said. “I just don’t like to talk about it. Everybody knows what could be. But you have to get past all the obstacles before you can even allow yourself to think about it. Yeah, it’s kind of hard not to think about it, but I use it for motivation. To get there, I have to do what I have to do against Lee Purdy. He’s a hungry fighter. He wants what I have. He wants my belt. I have to fight him as if I were fighting Floyd at that moment. I have to fight him as if I were fighting for my life. That’s the only way you can look at it.”


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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.



Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face



Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar



Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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