Junior welterweight titleholders Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley Jr. are down to the final days of training for their much-anticipated unification fight, and pushing themselves to the limit.
This is no time for either to let up and they both know it as they wind toward their showdown at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., on Jan. 29 (HBO, 10 p.m. ET).
Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs), who is from Palm Springs, Calif., and training in nearby Indio, said he is pushing himself as hard as he ever has so he can defeat Alexander in a fight, the first big one of 2011, which has been talked about for more than a year.
"At this point in my training camp I feel like every day has a moment like in the 'Rocky' films," said Bradley, 27. "When I am sparring or when I'm running and just feel like I have pushed myself to the limit and can't go any more, I start to talk to myself and become the one that tells me to push it. I hear a voice within me that tells me to keep going, keep on it, keep pushing. Yeah, I want this for me but also I want this for everyone -- my family, the kids I coach and to those whose lives I've touched in any way in my work with the community."
As he has done for recent fights, Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) left his hometown of St. Louis to train in Las Vegas, where he stays at a house owned by his promoter, Don King, and sleeps in Mike Tyson's old bed.
Alexander said he is also pushing himself hard.
"We are in the heart of our training camp, pounding the pavement for six miles every morning and in the gym every afternoon for training and sparring," Alexander said. "You can't beat a fight town like Vegas to find good sparring partners. It is critical for my preparation. I have guys here who are not just giving me good rounds, they are giving me good looks -- the kind of looks I expect to see from Tim Bradley."
Among Alexander's most punishing training regimens are his regular runs on Mt. Charleston, the towering mountain about a half-hour northwest of Las Vegas.
"A daunting challenge is when we drive up to Mt. Charleston three times a week to run on the mountain road I call 'The Monster.' It's one thing to run it in the summer. It's quite another to face it in the dead of winter," said Alexander, 23. "I had a TV crew from HBO up there with me on 'The Monster' last week, and we got snowed off the mountain. We are up so high I'm jogging by people who are skiing at the Mt. Charleston Ski Resort."
The sacrifices Alexander and Bradley are making are so that when the fight is over, the winner can declare himself the No. 1 junior welterweight in the world. The winner could meet titleholder Amir Khan in July -- if Khan survives an April 16 bout in the works -- and eventually put himself into the sweepstakes for a shot at Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr.
"This is a huge fight," Bradley said. "I don't know on what scale everyone else out there sees this fight, but this is the biggest fight of my career and Devon's career. It shows what type of fighters we are. We are young and both in our prime and you rarely ever see two undefeated guys -- two world champions, Americans -- fight each other. You rarely see that, and it's come down to this.
"I am seeded No. 1, and he has to prove to the world that he is better than I am. That's going to be a hell of a challenge. I am fired up, I'm ready and I'm hungry to show the world that I am the best 140-pounder out there. This division is loaded, and I feel I am the best and I've got to prove it on Jan. 29."
Alexander feels the same way.
"I have been working towards this since I was 7 years old. Since I came to the gym in St. Louis," he said. "I have been working hard every day. No short cuts. Now I've got to seize the moment. This is a big fight in my career. This will determine who is the best 140-pounder. Timothy Bradley I know will be ready, and I am ready to show the world that I am the best at 140."
Wilder to fight in sweet home Alabama
Heavyweight Deontay Wilder, the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, will headline the first boxing card overseen by the newly created Alabama Athletic Commission when he faces an opponent to be determined Feb. 19 in a six-rounder at Shelton State Community College in his hometown of Tuscaloosa.
Wilder (14-0, 14 KOs), 25, had been unable to fight in his home state because Alabama was one of the few states without a commission to oversee professional boxing. But Wilder personally lobbied state officials, who finally created the state commission late last year and issued Wilder its first license last week.
"My adrenaline is rushing and I'm excited, and now I'm literally in my backyard," Wilder told the Associated Press. "My house is next door."
The card will be promoted by Jay Deas' Skyy Promotions, which was issued the state's first promoter's license. Deas is also Wilder's trainer.
Wilder, who is 6-foot-7 and carries a powerful right hand, is also promoted by Golden Boy. He won the only boxing medal for the United States at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
• The leading candidate to face featherweight titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez on April 16 (Showtime) in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, is former titlist Orlando Salido of Mexico, Top Rank's Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. Lopez (30-0, 27 KOs), who was a former junior featherweight titlist before vacating his belt to move up in weight, will be making his third title defense. Salido (34-11-2, 22 KOs) is coming off a competitive decision loss to titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa in September. Salido, who dropped Gamboa in the eighth round, had been stripped of his belt the day of the fight because he had gained more than the 10 pounds the IBF allows between the official weigh-in the day before the fight and a weight check on the morning of the fight. Moretti said junior welterweight Mike Alvarado, who has had long stretches of inactivity while being incarcerated multiple times, will face an opponent to be determined in the televised opener. Alvarado (28-0, 20 KOs) will tune up for the fight Feb. 19 on the untelevised portion of the Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire bantamweight title bout in Las Vegas.
• Promoter Lou DiBella said HBO has approved Los Angeles-based Scottish middleweight Craig McEwan (19-0, 10 KOs) as the opponent to face Ireland's Andy Lee (24-1, 18 KOs) in a 10-rounder in the March 12 co-feature at the Foxwoods resort in Mashantucket, Conn. "The fight is happening," DiBella told ESPN.com. "We're getting the paperwork done, but the fight is agreed to." Lee was supposed to face fellow Irishman John Duddy, but Duddy abruptly announced his retirement this week, leaving DiBella to find a new opponent. In May 2009, McEwan scored a 10-round decision win against Brian Vera, who handed Lee his only defeat, a come-from-behind seventh-round TKO in March 2008.
• Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic semifinal dates have been set, although neither bout has a set site yet. Andre Ward is due to defend his super middleweight title against Arthur Abraham on May 14, although Abraham is first taking an interim bout outside the confines of the tournament Feb. 12. In the second semifinal on May 21, Carl Froch defends his version of the 168-pound title against Glen Johnson. The winners are due to meet later in 2011 to bring to a conclusion the tournament that began in October 2009. Both fights are supposed to take place in the United States, but DiBella, Johnson's co-promoter, said they will consider going to Froch's native England for the right money. He said Mick Hennessy, Froch's promoter, is lobbying for the fight to be in England.
• Junior featherweight titlist Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (20-0-1, 17 KOs), who won his 122-pound belt last year and made two defenses -- winning all three bouts by knockout -- likely will next face Mexican star Jorge Arce (56-6-2, 43 KOs). Vazquez, of Puerto Rico, could meet Arce on May 7 in Las Vegas on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley pay-per-view fight, promoter Tuto Zabala Jr. told ESPN.com. Zabala, Vazquez's promoter, said he was working on the fight for that date with Top Rank but "nothing is signed yet. Still working on it."
• Montreal middleweight David Lemieux (25-0, 24 KOs), at 22 one of boxing's fast-rising young stars, is moving toward a title eliminator against Marco Antonio Rubio (49-5-1, 42 KOs), a former title challenger from Mexico. Yvon Michel, Lemieux's promoter, said he will continue negotiating the fight with the Rubio camp but is prepared for a purse bid in Mexico on Friday. If they reach a last-minute deal, or if Michel wins the purse bid, the fight will take place April 8 in Montreal with ESPN2 televising on "Friday Night Fights." The winner of the bout moves a step closer to becoming the mandatory challenger for titlist Sebastian Zbik.
• Junior welterweight prospect Tim Coleman (18-1, 5 KOs) of Baltimore suffered a shoulder injury and has withdrawn from his 10-round junior welterweight bout against fellow prospect Vernon Paris (23-0, 14 KOs) of Detroit. They were due to meet on the Devon Alexander-Timothy Bradley Jr. undercard Jan. 29 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. John Beninati, the matchmaker for promoter Gary Shaw, said he is looking for a replacement opponent to face Paris.
• Former junior welterweight titlist Junior Witter (37-3-2, 22 KOs) is coming out of retirement Feb. 19 and moving up to welterweight. England's Witter, 36, who held a world title from 2006 to 2008 (before losing it to Timothy Bradley Jr.), announced his retirement after quitting following the eighth round against Devon Alexander in a fight for a vacant title in August 2009. Witter's return will come on a Hennessy Sports card in Mississauga, Ontario, against Victor Lupo (18-1-2, 9 KOs).
• British junior welterweight prospect Frankie Gavin (8-0, 7 KOs), a 2008 Olympian and former world amateur champion, had to pull out of a December fight because of the flu, but now he's healthy and ready to kick off his 2011 campaign. Gavin, 25, will fight an eight-rounder on promoter Frank Warren's Feb. 19 card in London. Although Gavin could not fight in December, he was still ringside to watch Olympic teammate and gold medalist James DeGale win the British title on the card by stopping Paul Smith in the ninth round in just his ninth professional fight. Gavin said seeing DeGale win that belt so soon after turning pro inspired him. "James showed that you don't need to have had many fights as a professional before you are capable of challenging at British level. If you are good enough, you should go for it," Gavin said. "Lenny Daws is the current British champion, but I'll knock him out if I get to fight him. I was gutted to miss out on fighting in [December]. It was a pretty spectacular card and I would have loved to have been a part of it. I had mixed feelings watching James do so well. We were good mates when we were amateurs, and I love seeing him do well, but there was a part of me that wanted a little bit of that for myself, so I definitely need to crack on and win that British title before too long. I just hope that if Daws is offered the chance to fight me he doesn't run a mile."
• Lightweight Vicente Escobedo (22-3, 14 KOs), a 2004 U.S. Olympian, will look to bounce back from his decision loss to Robert Guerrero on HBO in November. Escobedo will face spoiler Colombian southpaw Walter Estrada (38-13-1, 25 KOs) on March 4 (Telefutura) at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif. Estrada has won three in a row, including a pair of upsets. He stopped Verquan Kimbrough in the third round and sent former lightweight titleholder Nate Campbell into retirement by taking an eight-round decision win against him in November. Also on the card, Coachella, Calif., junior featherweight prospect Randy Caballero (7-0, 4 KOs) will box in a six-rounder against an opponent to be determined.
• Turkish heavyweight Sinan Samil Sam (31-4, 16 KOs) has been released from an Istanbul hospital, where he had been since mid-December with severe liver problems, according to promoter and friend Ahmet Öner. Sam, a two-time European heavyweight champion, had been rushed to the hospital and was intensive care. Initially, his doctor thought Sam would need a liver transplant, but his situation is no longer believed to be as dire. Sam will take medication and remain under observation, although a transplant may eventually be necessary. "I'm feeling better," Sam said in a statement. "I thank all my friends and fans for their concern. In the future I must pay attention to myself and my health. Of course, I can't even think of boxing after this. But I feel so fit again that I hope I'll soon to be able to train young talent." Sam, who faced several top heavyweights during his career, hasn't fought since regaining the vacant European title against Paolo Vidoz in July 2008.
• Featherweight titleholder Chris John (44-0-2, 22 KOs) will make his 14th defense at home in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 10 against an opponent to be determined, adviser Sampson Lewkowicz told ESPN.com. Junior lightweight titlist Ricky Burns (30-2, 7 KOs) of Scotland will make his second title defense in Glasgow against Joseph Laryea on March 12, promoter Frank Warren announced. Laryea (14-4, 11 KOs), of Ghana, scored an upset when he defeated Paul Appleby on Burns' last undercard Dec. 4. Welterweight prospect Brad Solomon (16-0, 7 KOs) takes a step up in competition against Demetrius Hopkins (30-1-1, 11 KOs), the nephew of Bernard Hopkins, in Hollywood, Fla., on March 18 on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights." In the opener, Chris Avalos (18-1, 15 KOs) meets 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist Yan Barthelemy (11-2, 4 KOs) in a junior featherweight fight. A decision is expected from Top Rank next week on which network will handle the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley pay-per-view card May 7 -- HBO PPV or Showtime PPV in conjunction with sister company CBS playing a role in marketing the fight.
"That belt you are holding, polish it up for me because I will be taking it on March 12. I will make a promise here today that I will knock him out in four rounds. I have been watching all of your fights for the past two months. You are punch-drunk. You can't take a punch anymore, and I will retire him. You and your trainer will fail. Like [Antonio] Margarito after the [Manny] Pacquiao fight, you will be thinking about retiring when I am done with you. I will make you think twice about getting in the ring again. Don't let your mom or your family suffer anymore by watching you get in the ring. I will knock him out." -- notorious trash-talker Ricardo Mayorga to junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto at the kickoff news conference Wednesday in New York to promote their Showtime PPV fight.
"Welcome to the first press conference where Ricardo Mayorga talks. I am a professional fighter and I know what my job is. My job is to fight in the ring and make good fights, because nobody wins a fight with their mouth. Yesterday I was with him and he was playful and serene, but today I guess he gets excited with all the lights and cameras on. When we get to the fight there will be lots of cameras on there also, but you will have to fight to back up your words." -- Cotto on Mayorga at the press conference.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.