The former welterweight champion—who fights Walter Castillo November 21 on FS1—hopes by making his opiate addiction public, he can help others who find themselves in a similar struggle.
The reflection was unrecognizable, though the eyes were the same. So was the face. It was just that Devon Alexander couldn’t stand looking at himself, because it wasn’t him.
The former welterweight champ knew it wasn’t him. The lying. The deceit. Hiding what was happening from loved ones. None of it was part of his character. He knew it. At the time, he couldn’t face it—because that would mean he was becoming the shadowy doppelganger that was trying to steal his soul.
Alexander, the 30-year-old lefty from St. Louis, Missouri, often looks back at the last two years of his life, shakes his head in disbelief and questions why he put himself through the drudgery of opiate addiction that almost cost him his career and robbed him of his life. It’s why he’s thankful for opportunities like Tuesday night, when Alexander will fight for the first time in over two years.
Alexander (26-4, 14 KOs) will be taking on Walter Castillo (26-4-1, 19 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight bout in the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions show on FS1 from The Coliseum in Saint Petersburg, Florida at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT.
The fact that Alexander is even fighting is a small miracle. His powerful message is simple: Addiction can sneak up on you like a ghost in the night.
It did Alexander. He realized he was slowly killing himself and those around him.
“I look back and say to myself, ‘Man, why did I do that to myself,’ so I’m just as shocked as everyone else when I look back at everything I did,” Alexander reflected. “Addiction is a real deal out there, and I’m open to tell my story, if it helps someone. The first thing that you have to admit is that you have a problem.
“It’s something that had to take a real scare for me to admit. When people are taking that stuff, they really don’t think that they can get over it. There is this attitude that they give up, that they really can’t kick the habit. I’m a living witness that you can. You have to want to, and you have to have something to look forward to. I’m fortunate enough that I had my family, friends and my boxing career.”
His nadir came one October night in 2015, soon after his 10-round decision loss to Aaron Martinez on Oct. 14. It was a normal evening. Alexander was lying in bed with his wife watching TV. He took some of the prescription painkillers. Then, he passed out. He woke up five minutes later, after being nonresponsive with his wife, who called an ambulance.
When “The Great” regained consciousness, he had no idea what occurred.
“That was it for me, that scared me straight,” Alexander said. “My wife didn’t know what was going on. The ambulance asked what happened. They took me to the emergency room, and from there on I vowed to myself, ‘No way, this doesn’t happen again.’Anything could have happened to me and I might not have woken up.
“That’s the way you have to think. It was a scary feeling.”
It was scary because for one of the rare times in his life he was not in control. One moment, he was on national TV fighting before millions, the next he was sitting among a group talking about drug addiction.
“ Opiate addiction is an epidemic out there and I’m a living witness that it is dangerous, and I want to be an example to people that you can shake the addiction. ” Former World Campion Devon Alexander
The next step Alexander had to make was telling his trainer, Kevin Cunningham, who’s been more like a father than a trainer to him. It took great courage to make the move.
“But I had to tell Kev,” Alexander said. “I was scared. I’ll admit I was scared to tell him what was going on. I had come clean. From that point, it was another step I take again in getting me straight again. When I was taking the medication after fights, I would make excuses for myself. It was a tough thing. ”
What started was an operation to remove a blood clot after his Marcos Maidana in February 2012. He was prescribed medication to deal with the post-surgery discomfort. Before that, Alexander never did drugs. He’s not a drinker. He saw in St. Louis what drugs and alcohol could do. Soon after the blood clot surgery, Alexander had a tonsillectomy and was prescribed more pain medication.
“I kept taking the stuff, and taking it, and taking it,” Alexander recalled. “I kept telling the doctors that I was in and pain and they kept prescribing it. I was even taking it when I wasn’t hurt. My wife could tell. She would say things like, ‘Devon, why are you taking that stuff? You don't need that!’”
Cunningham noticed little things, too. In every fight after the Maidana fight, Alexander was showing up addicted to painkillers.
“I could tell something was wrong,” Cunningham said. “One day Devon asked me to come over to his house and he laid it on me. He told me he was too embarrassed to say it when it was going on, because anyone addicted isn’t going to come out and admit it to the ones who care about them the most.
“When he told me, it was devastating and emotional when he told me. I couldn’t believe it. Devon never drank a beer in his life. But there were a whole lot of things going on. I would tell Devon, ‘There’s something not right with you dude. Is there something going on that you’re not telling me?’
“He didn’t look the same. He didn’t behave the same. There would be lying about little things that didn’t make sense. He would miss here and there when this was going on. I knew something was seriously wrong. I will say that I’m very proud of him. It does take a man to come out and admit that they made a mistake. He looked at what was going on and he was the one who took the initiative to make it right.”
Alexander has time to make up. He says this is the best he’s felt in years.
“Opiate addiction is an epidemic out there and I’m a living witness that it is dangerous, and I want to be an example to people that you can shake the addiction,” Alexander said. “Personally, I thank God that I was able to overcome it. On Tuesday night, the old Devon Alexander will be back.
“This is just the beginning of my story. I have a lot of bigger plans ahead.”
For a complete look at Alexander vs Castillo, visit our fight page