Alexander The Busy

Nov 14, 2007
In 2000, an asphalt worker in Omaha, Neb., made one of the easiest decisions of his life. To save his nine-year-old daughter, Elan, Houston Alexander (Pictures) donated his kidney.

Seven years later, Alexander has a scar on his abdomen and a new vocation as one of the top light heavyweight mixed martial artists in the world. He hid the origin of the scar until recently, unsure how it would sound and perhaps in deference to the inevitable question: How do you fight with one kidney?

"Like I've been fighting, brotha."

Flash back to May 26 when Houston Alexander (Pictures) was first introduced to the world as an unknown without a chance and turned it into a defining moment. A late fill-in at UFC 71, Alexander is a huge underdog against Keith Jardine (Pictures). Jardine, fresh off a victory over Forrest Griffin (Pictures), has made it clear he feels Alexander is beneath his standards. After the bell, the fighters circle each other, and Jardine holds his hands above his head, prodding Joe Rogan to compare him to a chimpanzee. Twenty seconds into the bout, Jardine lands a left that sends Alexander to the mat.

"Can you please stop?"

Six months later, I'm trying to start an interview with Alexander, but getting my first question in is proving more difficult than I imagined.

"Can you put your coat away?"

In the next two minutes, I will attempt to start the interview six times. The first five will fail mid-sentence.

"Can you please close that door?"

A single father of six, he spent the day training and then ferried his children home to their small apartment.

"Can you please put your coat away like I asked you? This is the second time I asked."

Now, the 35 year old is just a dad, and I feel as if I am intruding on a private, daily routine.

"Can you please close the door? Somebody?"

This is the surprisingly mundane life of a fighter that has gained a rabid cult following despite -- or perhaps because of -- just 109 seconds spent during two appearances in the Octagon. On Saturday he will fight undefeated Thiago Silva (Pictures) in the most interesting bout of UFC 78. If Alexander wins, he could be next in line for a title shot.

"Can you see I am on the phone? Can I take the call? Do I have permission from you?"

Finally, he has a free moment and directs his comment to me.

"OK, Brother, what were you saying?"

Life is comparatively good for Houston Alexander (Pictures). His daughter is healthy. He is Sunday night DJ on Omaha's KOPW 106.9. He has sponsors. He has three cars: 1999 & 1996 Grand-Ams and a 1965 Super Sport Impala. And his well-publicized primary focus is fatherhood (the mother is working in Kuwait).

"I have the single-father thing down to a science," he says. "My main thing is not having enough time. That is the most crucial thing. I've seen my schedule get away. It's almost overwhelming. I would give anything for more time."

600 Degrees of Misery

May: Alexander rises, lunges at Jardine and pushes him to the cage -- as is the game plan. Alexander begins to channel Clubber Lang. A knee lands and then a right buckles Jardine's knees. Alexander grabs the back of Jardine's head with his left and lands seven power shots with his right. Thirty-one seconds into the fight, he lifts Jardine off the mat with an uppercut.

"It was complete anger," Alexander says now. "It's a fight so you know you're going to get hit, but I still couldn't believe that he hit me in the face. It was a complete adrenaline rush."

It's hard to envision the charismatic and gregarious person I'm speaking with can be so savage.

"He is a powerful guy and he fights with a lot of rage and passion," trainer Mick Doyle says. "I was at a show where he slammed the guy so hard, he broke the ring. The guy hit so hard that it broke the wood underneath. And Houston has actually done that twice."

Doyle is responsible for honing Alexander's game, but the origins of the fighter's success began during the 1990s, a decade of laying asphalt.

"Asphalt is tough," Alexander says. "There's not many people that can stand in 100-degree weather, work a machine that is 100 degrees and handle the asphalt mix, which is 400 degrees. That's 600 degrees of misery, brotha."

The job strengthened his body and mind, but it was a dead end. Shortly before he was employed at KOPW, he got into MMA. A friend suggested Alexander try a local toughman competition. Alexander won and kept going back for easy money -- usually against bigger opponents. You won't find these near-weekly bouts in the Sherdog Fight Finder. Most were unsanctioned and unregulated small shows.

"I saw him years ago, and you could see he had special talent," Doyle says. "I asked him if he wanted to get serious about training and he said no. He just wasn't that ambitious. Everything revolved around his kids' schedule."

On March 31, 2007, he entered a tournament run by legendary MMA manager Monte Cox as a 207-pound heavyweight. He won the first fight in 48 seconds and was winning the second before it was ruled a no-contest. After the fights, Alexander went to collect his check.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Cox said. "You have all this talent and you're wasting it."

Alexander replied that no one had taken an interest in his career.

"Do you want to fight in bigger shows?" Cox asked. "Do you want to get to the UFC?"

Alexander had not seen a UFC since Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and Ken Shamrock (Pictures) first fought in 2002.

"I didn't have time to follow the UFC," Alexander says. "I was trying to feed my kids and pay the rent."

Cox planned to give him a few more fights in smaller shows to build him up. But a conversation with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva changed history.

"He asked if I had anybody for Jardine," Cox says. "Now you don't just throw somebody in against a guy like Keith Jardine (Pictures). But style-wise it was a good fight for us. I said I got a guy and -- not only that -- I got a guy who could beat Keith Jardine (Pictures)."

The fight was in seven weeks. Previously self-trained, Alexander contacted Doyle.

"He said he had this fight coming up and would I be interested in training him," Doyle says. "I said who's it against? And he said Keith Jardine (Pictures). He had no idea who Jardine was.

"I told him he'd have to train full time. We started training three times a day for seven weeks."

RAW

May: Jardine is back on his feet; his face is blank. He has waded into a storm and tries to clinch. Instead, he eats a knee and falls forward. At 44 seconds, Alexander catches him with another vicious uppercut, and Jardine collapses against the cage.

"When Houston got to me, he was so raw," Doyle says with a laugh. "That first night with me, my guys just picked him apart. They worked his legs over. We didn't have time to work on everything, so we worked on what we thought Jardine would be susceptible to.

"Houston had a lot to learn, but he was very positive. I've trained a lot of fighters, including six Muay Thai world champions, and Houston is the most coachable guy I've ever trained. He puts blind faith in his trainer and coaches. Plus, he's gifted athletically and he learns fast. It's like having a blank canvas."

Two weeks before UFC 71, Cox called Doyle to check on the progress. Doyle said they were going to shock the world. When Alexander arrived in Vegas, he was a massive underdog and disrespected by fans who felt Jardine deserved a higher-profile opponent. Once fans got an eyeful of his physique and Internet rumors of his underground performances started circulating, the odds began to narrow.

"I was standing in The Sports Book, and the odds were like 12-1," Doyle says. Doyle met a bettor who wanted to drop big money on the UFC but knew nothing of the sport. Doyle told him to bet on Alexander. "The guy came up to me after the fight and said, ‘Your guy came through.' He bet $20,000. Guy didn't even buy me a beer."

In the days before the fight, Dana White -- who had never seen Alexander before -- ran into Alexander so often, he wondered if he was being followed.

"It was hilarious. It was like a movie," White says. "It's like he was stalking me. He'd pop out from behind doors and say, ‘Wait until you see what I can do. You're not going to be sorry.'"

Alexander says it was just a fortunate coincidence, but it sticks in White's mind.

"He's calmed down since then," White says.

No Joke

May: At 45 seconds, Alexander lands a knee while Jardine is down and follows it with another uppercut. Jardine falls forward limp, face smacking the mat. At 48 seconds, Steve Mazzagatti dives in after Alexander lands another punch. Alexander sloughs the referee off and glowers over his unconscious opponent. Jardine's leg dangles on the cage as some fans fear for his life.

A few days before the fight, an emotional Alexander called Cox.

"I can't lose," he said.

"It's good to be confident," Cox replied.

"No, I can't lose," Alexander clarified. "This is life for me. If I lose, I will let my kids down and I can't do that."

Fighters often grab any motivator they can find. Several focus on their kids' well-being, but few as tangibly.

"This is not a joke for me," Alexander says. "This is real life. This is paying for my kids' college fund. This is paying for them to have a good life. When you try to beat me, you are trying to take something away from my kids, brotha."

Alexander is what-you-see is what-you-get. He sees the direct correlation between his performance in the Octagon and his children's well-being. He also understands the door swings both ways and is flying his sparring partners to UFC 78 and paying for their tickets.

"He didn't have to do that," Doyle says. "But he's always so conscious of not letting anyone down, not his family or the fans, and that other guys that dream of being where he is. When he is fighting, he is fighting for a lot of people."

In Omaha, KOPW feels a bump in listeners after Alexander fights. Local cable companies enjoy the bump in pay-per-view buys. On the streets, people stop him as if they know him. Others want to know more. Some are simply astounded that the man they know did THAT.

"It's surreal," Alexander says. "It's almost like starting a rumor. Maybe people didn't see the fight, but someone who did tells them they have to see this fight. And then it spreads like wildfire by word-of-mouth. The response in Nebraska has been crazy."

He knew he had hit the big-time before UFC 75 in London. With a grand total of 48 seconds in his UFC career, Alexander expected to be unknown during weigh-ins. Although the British fans cheered loudest for countryman Michael Bisping (Pictures), Alexander was not far behind. There he became aware of the simple economics of the fight business.

"It's not the win, but the way you win that attracts people," he says. "I am an employee of the UFC fans. If my employer wants me to knock people out, then that is what I will do.

"Please don't blink when I fight though."

If fans blinked during UFC 75, they may have missed Alexander's brutal knockout of Alessio Sakara (Pictures). The fight showed Alexander's rough edges but also solidified him as a fan favorite. Before the bout, Alexander and Doyle joked about how fast it should end.

"Sixty seconds," Doyle said.

Afterward, Alexander learned the fight ended in 61.

"That's because you told me to come out slowly."

A Wrecking Crew

May: Jardine lives. Barely. He stares wide as ice packs are applied to his face. He is lifted to a stool and asks: What happened? Alexander rained 27 unanswered blows. He is still sneering and prowling around the cage. Bruce Buffer directs him to join Mazzagatti for the post-fight announcement. "The Dean of Mean" remains seated throughout.

A week after they began their partnership, Doyle and Alexander were eating dinner together. Alexander began to wax his life story.

"Man, whatever happens to you, I want the film rights," Doyle said. "You are a Disney movie waiting to happen."

Alexander's biggest boost came indirectly. Four months after his stunning loss, Jardine beat Chuck Liddell (Pictures) in UFC 76. Alexander called Cox.

"Is this good for me?" he asked.

"Absolutely," Cox replied. "When the guy you didn't have any problem with beats the main man, it looks really, really good."

On Monday, White said he sees Forest Griffin as the No. 1 light heavyweight contender with Jardine a close No. 2. Yet Griffin was knocked out by Jardine (UFC 66), who was thoroughly pummeled by Alexander.

"The rankings have Jardine fourth in the world and Houston is nowhere," Cox says. "Did I see the same 45 seconds?"

White said he is not ready to throw Alexander to the wolves. Yet, whispers of an eventual title shot have begun. Doyle told Cox he'd have Alexander ready in a year. Cox thought he was joking but is now pulling the bandwagon.

"There are still questions about Houston, but I am confident he's not a joke," Cox says. "He's for real. I'm not saying he is going to go undefeated or beat Rampage, but anyone that thinks he will lose his next four or five fights and disappear is crazy.

"And he's not as polished as he will get. He's probably at 70 percent of where he will be. This guy is a wrecking crew."

However, the glare of Alexander's future extends only as far as his next fight. Before his own bout at UFC 75, Alexander watched Thiago Silva (Pictures) beat Tomasz Drwal (Pictures). A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has won nine of 11 bouts by knockout, the 25 year old may be Alexander's most well-rounded opponent.

"I never worry about other fighters and what they want to do," Alexander says. "If you worry about what they are going to do, you cannot impose your will on that guy. I come in with a game plan and I follow it.

"It's turned out all right so far."
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