Alexander making journey back from painkiller addict to ring
NEW YORK — Devon Alexander has gone from world champion to painkiller addict to boxer on the comeback trail. He believes the battles he’s waged to get back into the ring will benefit him as he chases another title.
Alexander held two world championships by the time he was 23 years old. But after defeating Marcos Maidana in early 2012, Alexander underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his nose.
He was prescribed Tramadol, a powerful opiate painkiller, to help in his recovery. Instead, the drug turned Alexander into an addict.
“Every doctor prescribes pain medication, and this was my first time taking anything, any medicine, and I don’t drink or smoke,” Alexander said as he prepared for an Aug. 4 welterweight eliminator with another former champion, Andre Berto, at Nassau Coliseum. “A couple weeks after surgery I found myself taking the medicine when I didn’t need to, and it gradually got worse. I was taking it again and again.
“Before you knew it, I was skipping the gym. After a year and a half of it — I am a private person, anyone in boxing will tell you I am — it was very difficult to tell anyone.”
But he did, fully recognizing the crossroads he’d reached. He came clean with trainer/coach Kevin Cunningham and with his family.
“Everyone looked at me as there is no way Devon would do that. But I had done it,” he said. “It turned my life upside down.”
Alexander had one loss against 23 victories after beating Maidana; the loss was to Timothy Bradley Jr., for the WBC super lightweight crown. During his addiction, he actually fought six times, losing three. Two of the defeats came against Shawn Porter and Amir Khan, among the best welterweights around at the time.
Alexander knew in late 2015 he couldn’t think about getting back into the ring until he straightened out his life. So he took off more than two years while kicking his addiction.
“I am a positive person, a happy person, so I never thought that I wouldn’t fight (again),” the 31-year-old Alexander said. “I made my mistake and took the necessary steps to get help. I had my family around, my coach around, my mom around to do the right thing. I always kept up my pride.”
But did he keep up his skills? Putting the gloves back on and hitting the heavy bag or sparring were important steps. Could he still handle the rigors of the ring?
Cunningham had few doubts that Alexander would return strongly.
“I think a big part of it was he saw he was about to lose the things he worked so hard to achieve,” said Cunningham, who has worked with Alexander since the fighter was 7. “And it was part of the focus on the process of rehab, and he had that (boxing) to look forward to.”
His first fight after the layoff was last November against veteran Walter Castillo. Alexander won a unanimous decision.
“It felt like I was home, like I was back to myself,” he said. “Just needed a few rounds to get warmed up and my feet under me. I was just elated I was able to be back and beat it, to get in the ring and show other people they can do it. It is now about more than me — I got a purpose now.”
Then came another tough, seasoned opponent, Victor Ortiz, in February, and they fought to a draw. Alexander recognizes he is not back to previous form, but he is progressing.
Berto, who has lost five of his last nine after beginning his pro career with 27 straight wins, should provide a good test. Alexander wants the fight on Fox TV to be the next step toward a shot at one of the champions in the stacked welterweight division.
“I want to be one of the guys recognized as one of the top guys in the welterweight division,” he said. “I’m not there yet, I’ve got to see more of me in my comeback. This is my comeback trail.”