Alexander headlines triple-header in St. Louis

Devon Alexander has always been talented beyond his years, which

is why his trainer had to forge the date on his birth certificate

several years ago so that he could fight in a local Golden Gloves

competition.

”You had to be 17,” recalled Kevin Cunningham, a former police

officer who helped to lift Alexander from the rough neighborhoods

of North St. Louis to boxing stardom. Alexander was only 16 back

then, but Cunningham knew he was talented enough to compete.

”That’s why I did it,” Cunningham said.

Alexander easily worked his way through a more experienced field

on the way to the title, and he hasn’t stopped winning since. The

reigning WBC and IBF junior welterweight champion will defend his

belts against former champion Andriy Kotelnik on Saturday night in

a title triple-header at the Scottrade Center in Alexander’s home

town.

Also on the Don King-promoted card, IBF junior middleweight

champ Cory Spinks takes on Cornelius Bundrage, and IBF light

heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud defends his title against former

champion Glen Johnson.

The headliner, though, is the 23-year-old Alexander.

He began boxing at 7 years old and still has a picture of

himself holding up the Silver Gloves championship belt he won three

years later. In the photo are two other boys trained by Cunningham

who won titles at the event – Quintin Gray and Willie Ross.

Gray is serving a life sentence for murder and Ross is dead.

That’s life on the streets in North St. Louis, where Cunningham

began training Alexander and about 30 other boys in a basement gym.

Cunningham estimates that only nine have survived the drugs and

gang wars that have crippled the neighborhood.

”We had a disciplined family and that helped the most. It made

me stay focused,” Alexander said. ”Could’ve been me. I just

didn’t want to go down that path.”

Alexander’s older brother, Vaughn, was once considered the more

talented fighter in the family. He’s now serving 18 years in prison

for armed robbery.

Alexander credits his mother, Sharon, along with Cunningham with

keeping him on the right path. Cunningham figures he watched over

Alexander at least six days a week during the past 16 years.

Sharon, with 13 various family members living under her roof during

Devon’s formative years, also steered the boy away from

trouble.

”You can’t stop fate, and I think I’m fated to be the best in

the boxing game,” he said.

Alexander (20-0, 13 KOs) will be a heavy favorite against

Kotelnik (31-3-1, 13 KOs), a highly regarded fighter who gets a

chance to regain a title after losing the WBA version of the

140-pound belt in a lopsided decision against Amir Khan in July

2009.

Coincidentally, a victory over Kotelnik could propel Alexander

into a big-money showdown with Khan, or perhaps fellow titleholder

Timothy Bradley. Alexander is coming off an impressive eighth-round

knockout of Juan Urango in March that has solidified his place in

one of boxing’s hottest divisions, and either of those two fights

would generate massive interest.

”Biggest fight of my life and I’m ready,” Alexander said. ”I

feel confident.”

Kotelnik realizes that he’s stepping into a pro-Alexander

environment on Saturday night, just like he was stepping into a

pro-Khan crowd when we fought in Manchester, England, but the

potentially hostile environment doesn’t concern him.

”I came here without worrying about my opponent’s home town,”

Kotelnik said through an interpreter. ”I won’t make any

predictions but I’m here to go the distance. This fight is going to

be endless. It will be a long night.”

It certainly will be for fans in the Scottrade Center.

Leading off the title triple-header, Spinks (37-5, 11 KOs) makes

his long overdue defense against Cornelius Bundrage (29-4, 17 KOs)

in his first fight since winning his vacant junior middleweight

title in the same building in April 2009.

Spinks is also from St. Louis and figures to have the hometown

crowd on his side, too.

The main undercard bout, which will be televised live on HBO

along with the main event, pits Cloud (20-0, 18 KOs) against the

41-year-old Johnson (50-13-2, 34 KOs) in just his third fight in

the past three years.

”There is not much in there in boxing,” Johnson said. ”I

mean, there’s a left hand and a right hand and, hey, I’ve seen it

thrown every different kind of way throughout my career. So,

certainly, there won’t be nothing I haven’t seen before.”