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The Ring Proved a Refuge For Devon Alexander

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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