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Devon Alexander Gateway to Greatness
St. Louisan Devon Alexander, in his Aug. 7 bout against Andriy Kotelnik at Scottrade Center. (Chris Lee / clee@post-dispatch.com)

DETROIT • A boxing training camp before a big fight can seem to drag on endlessly — eight weeks of morning runs, workouts, careful eating and early bed times. Which is why trainer Kevin Cunningham wanted to give Devon Alexander a break, a change of pace to break up the monotony that can hit even a camp in Las Vegas: a Saturday night out, taking in the boxing movie "The Fighter." It was a natural, a no-brainer.

Only one problem: Alexander didn't want to go. He wanted to stay focused on his fight with Timothy Bradley. An evening out? Out of the question.

"He's always focused," Cunningham said Wednesday, "but he was focused to a level I've never seen. He didn't want to do anything but run, train and focus on the fight. He'd eat, shower, go back to his room, go to sleep, then get up and do it again. ... He didn't want to go see the movie. That's how focused he is on this fight."

"I wasn't up to it," Alexander acknowledged. "I wanted to train. That's what we were there for, to train."

Cunningham finally got Alexander to go out and see the movie — "We enjoyed it," Cunningham said — but nothing else seems to be able to distract Alexander, the WBC 140-pound champ, as he prepares to fight Timothy Bradley, the WBO 140-pound champ, on Saturday at the Pontiac Silverdome in a battle of young, talented, unbeaten fighters. Regardless of how the fight goes, the winner will be on the fast track to the upper echelons of boxing and the loser will have earned the boxing world's respect for taking a chance.

"I think this fight catapults the winner into the conversation about the megafights," Cunningham said. "The Mayweathers, the Pacquiaos, the Marquezes, the Mosleys."

But for all that's at stake down the road, St. Louis' Alexander deflects talk of it. What's at stake to him in this fight is this fight.

"I just stay focused on this fight," he said, several times in several variations Wednesday. "I'm worried about this fight and getting past this fight. I'll worry about (what's next) after the fight. I'm planning on looking explosive in the fight. I'm ready to rock and roll."

The fun, Alexander figures, will come later. He looked relaxed and confident Wednesday as he went through a short workout and met with reporters at the new Kronk Gym. He wore a white sweatshirt into the ring that said "Bradley U Next" in orange letters and, in addition to the punches he threw in the ring and a fast-paced "whack, whack, whack" into Cunningham's mitts, he threw a few verbal jabs at his opponent. Told that boxing legend Tommy Hearns had gone into the ring the day before and given Bradley some pointers on throwing his right, Alexander didn't hesitate to say, "He's going to need all the tips he can get."

It's tough talk coming from a 2-to-1 underdog, but delivered with Alexander's smile it seldom seemed threatening. Alexander (21-0) is only 23 and gradually working his way up the boxing pyramid, and this bout is about as big as they come short of one of the megafights. He's headlining a card on HBO on a weekend with few other distractions in a fight that figures to be one of the best this year. This is the third straight fight in which he'll be in the main event, but the attention this fight is getting dwarfs what he got for fights with Juan Urango and Andriy Kotelnik.

"This is a big step," Alexander said. "I've been talking about it since I turned pro. Now, I'm in this position. I'm going to take advantage of the situation and show the world why I'm the best 140-pounder in the division.

"I've been an underdog most of my life. People say 'He's too young,' or, 'He's not experienced enough.' I've got to prove once again I'm good. I am 'The Great.'"

Among the reasons Alexander is an underdog is his last fight, a 12-round unanimous decision over Kotelnik at Scottrade Center. Alexander's five previous fights hadn't gone the distance, as he put down his opponent early. He couldn't do that against Kotelnik and though he was a clear-cut 116-112 winner on all three cards some observers thought he wasn't as commanding as he had been in his earlier title fights. While both boxers have beaten Junior Witter, Bradley did it on Witter's home turf in England, and Bradley, who is 4 years older and has had five more fights, is a bit more experienced.

"He's considered the No. 1 guy," Cunningham said. "Most consider Devon No. 2. Let's see who's really No. 1."

Alexander rates his performance against Kotelnik as "OK."

"I didn't follow the game plan. That's what I have to do in this fight. ... I'm 23 and still learning. I'm a student of the game. You're going to see stuff in the ring I haven't done before."

Cunningham, too, has a good feeling going into the fight.

"We had a great training camp," he said. "Relaxed, focused, everything went just as planned. The stars are lining up just the way we like them."