"The hook coming, bro."
Trainer Kevin Cunningham was warning of an imaginary punch that his fighter, St. Louis-native Devon Alexander "The Great", had forgot to slip while shadowboxing. In the Passamaquoddy conference room of the Mohegan Sun's convention center, the error bore little consequence apart from a trainer's admonishment. In 48 hours, however, the stakes would be considerably higher for Alexander, when the WBC super lightweight champion hoped to unify his title with that of IBF champ Juan "Iron Twin" Urango, whose sledgehammer-hook would assuredly come with him to the ring.
"If you catch that hook, you know what you're supposed to be doing," says Cunningham, who speaks to his champion like a son. In many ways he is one. At age 7, Alexander joined a group of 30 children Cunningham began training while still a full-time police officer in the Hyde Park-area of St. Louis, a haven for drugs and gangs. Many of those 30 were killed, imprisoned, or lost to gangs, but Alexander survived to become world champion, and Cunningham was displeased at the thought of 16 years of work together being laid waste by something so frivolous as a right hook.
At that moment, just around the corner in a small gym of the casino, Urango was walking on treadmill. Earlier in the week, Alexander, 23, trained there, but today his team had to relocate to avoid a potentially unnerving scene for both parties: a gentlemanly final workout between rival champions in a hotel spa.
A native of Monteria, the cattle-farming capital of Colombia, Urango, 29, appears a quiet loner, though perhaps it is just his shaky English rending him laconic before American press by default. For the bulk of his career, he has played the role of so many of his countrymen in the ring: a ferocious, but technically deficient contender. Despite Urango being champion, his fight against Alexander proved no exception to a contender status, as he entered the ring a 3-to-1 underdog.
The two fighters would come face to face the next day at the weigh-in on the Mohegan's shop concourse, fittingly staged outside a Krispy Kreme. After being outweighed by half a pound, a 139¼-lb Alexander slipped on a pair of Prada shades Cunningham had bought him and headed to the hotel buffet.
Alexander had trained in Las Vegas, staying in the spacious, golf-course-adjacent home of Don King. "None of us plays golf, but I do like the hot tubs," says Lamar Alexander, Devon's older brother and fourth man in the corner. There in the Sin City home, King used to put up Mike Tyson, and the home looked as if the furnishings had last been updated in the same era.
Though residing in Cooper City, Florida, when not in Monteria, Urango trained in Tampa. For his title unification bout, he sparred at the Fight Factory Gym, where Miguel Cotto had prepared for his showdown with Manny Pacquiao just months before. The result would be eerily similar: an iron-chinned warrior dismantled by another iron-chinned warrior in spectacular fashion.
Devon Alexander (20-0) handed Juan Urango (22-3-1) the first knockout of his career at 1:12 of the eighth round. The fight had largely progressed as predicted: Urango prodded forward as a bull, but what was not anticipated was Alexander's artistry as the matador.
In the third round, Alexander landed an uppercut that drew blood from Urango. Initially, it seemed to be a cut on the eye. But after the fight, it was revealed the shot had bloodied Urango's nose. The Colombian bull charges so wildly, he appears to function more on scent than on sight, and presumably a stopped up nose proved an enormous disadvantage to him.
For Alexander, it was a measured performance of impeccable footwork and refined execution of skills honed over a lifetime. The second knockdown which ended the fight came from a right hook, causing Urango to wilt mercifully into Alexander's arms, which were far from welcoming. A prior uppercut moments earlier in the round had truly been the blow to unlace Urango from his consciousness. Cunningham had yelled the move from the corner.
"Did you hear me yell that out to you?" asked Cunningham back in Alexander's locker room.
Alexander replied, "Yeah, I heard you. That's why I did it."
In the locker room, Alexander suited up for the post-fight conference without a marking on him. Before he exited, Floyd Mayweather called him. "I just wanted to tell you," Floyd said on speakerphone, "when I pass the torch, I'm passing it to you."
Mayweather should be careful: soon enough, before he can pass the torch, Alexander may just take it.