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A Boxer Poised to Roar
Before Louisiana Army National Guard Sergeant Trey “The Truth” Alexander stepped into the ring to defend his All-Army boxing title in June, he knew plenty about his opponent. He knew Private First Class Astrid Amanda, of the New York National Guard, was a fellow Soldier-athlete and, in fact, as Alexander puts it, “a real good guy, a nice guy.”
But Alexander (a specialist at the time) thought about none of that when the bell rang. The only thing on his mind was following up the All-Army 141-pound light welterweight title he won last September with another, and he and his supporters knew this fight was a crucial step in his boxing career. Alexander saw Amanda as a man trying to take what was his. He viewed Amanda as standing in the way of his dreams, and he simply could not allow it. “I’m sure he doesn’t think any nice things about me,” Alexander says. “We’re both in the hurt business.”
During the second round, the coaches in Alexander’s corner noticed that Amanda left his body vulnerable, so they instructed Alexander to attack him there. And attack he did. After repeated blows, Amanda folded over. The ref stepped in for a standing eight count. Once that was over, Alexander went back to the body, this time dropping Amanda to his knees. The ref counted off eight again. When Alexander resumed pummeling Amanda’s body, the ref stopped the bout with 10 seconds left in the second round.
For the second time in less than a year, the All-Army title belonged to Alexander. And now another thought consumed him: What next? But before answering that question, it’s important to know how he got here.
Growing up in Houma, LA, a bayou town located about 55 miles southwest of New Orleans, Alexander played basketball and baseball. He liked watching boxing, and sometimes pretended to be the boxers he saw on TV. But he never participated in the sport until he met a boxing coach in 2013 while working out with his father. The coach picked up on Alexander’s devotion to fitness and asked him to hit the bag a few times. From there, it wasn’t long before Alexander had dedicated himself to the sport.
That coach, Carril “Poochie” Cooks Jr., believed his protege should master the necessary skills before he started boxing. So Alexander trained for three solid months before he even began sparring. “He was real precise on what he wanted me to do. He wanted everything to be right, for me to have my technical skills down pat before I stepped into the ring with somebody,” Alexander says. “At the time, it seemed repetitive, month after month, me doing the same thing. I was thinking, This is getting old.”
It was a lot like military training, and that was no coincidence—Cooks was a former Army sergeant first class who earned a Purple Heart in Operation Desert Storm. As tedious as Alexander found the endless repetition to be at times, when he finally stepped into the ring and started throwing punches—and more important, absorbing them—he knew that Cooks’ approach was right.
Cooks, who fought 300 times as an amateur boxer, never saw the fruits of his work. He died in a motorcycle accident in June 2013 before Alexander’s first fight.
“When he passed, I kind of lost guidance a little bit. I was just starting out boxing, and I was really liking it, so to lose my coach, I didn’t know where to go from there,” Alexander says. “I dedicated my training and my time to him. He started me out with everything I knew about boxing. I didn’t want to just let that go. I told myself I was going to do whatever I had to do to continue with what he taught me. Whether it was training by myself or someone else coming along and training me, I wasn’t going to stop. I dedicated all of that to coach Cooks.”
Alexander trained for a while with Robert Allen, a former pro boxer nicknamed “Armed and Dangerous” who is also from Louisiana. Allen introduced him to Lloyd Stewart, a six-time Golden Gloves champion who was so impressed by the young boxer’s skills that he moved to Alexander’s hometown and opened a gym, Pro Athletic Performance. In the few years since, Alexander’s ascent has more than validated Stewart’s decision to uproot his life to support the fighter.
Alexander has transformed from a teenager who had never fought to a 23-year-old blossoming talent with back-to-back All-Army titles and national wins at two events considered prestigious proving grounds for young boxers: the 2014 Sugar Bert Summer Championships and the 2016 National Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) boxing tournament. Alexander’s military service has helped propel his boxing career, too, providing sure footing in the form of coaches, mentors, mental and physical fitness, and chances to train and compete. And as his star continues to rise, he’s taking full advantage of the opportunities the Guard affords him to grow even stronger and push even further as an athlete.
Alexander joined the Louisiana National Guard in August 2011, a couple of years before he started boxing, upon the advice of his father, Larry. “I told him the military is always a good route to go if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do when you get out of school—and sometimes even if you are sure,” his dad says. “[With] the military, you can’t go wrong. It builds your confidence.” Larry’s was the voice of experience—he served in the Louisiana Guard from 1987 until 1995.
For Alexander, whose MOS is 92G (culinary specialist), the skills required to excel in the military and in boxing overlap. Both require discipline, resilience and a refusal to be satisfied. “You can never be content in what you’re doing,” says Alexander. “Let’s say you’re the best at what you do. There’s always going to be somebody out there who’s coming for your spot, who’s going to try to be better than you. So you’ve got to work two and three times harder to keep doing well and achieving goals. Because if you get content, you’re never going to reach your full potential.”
That philosophy explains why Alexander fights with a chip on his shoulder. It’s almost as if he wants people to doubt him. Take his glasses, for example. Alexander wears them outside the ring, but he boxes without them. Why? Because he relishes the idea that people see his glasses and underestimate him based on something so superficial. As Stewart says: “He’s like Superman. He takes those glasses off, and he turns into something else.”
Alexander traces his edge in the ring to his time on the high school basketball court. Though he was small, coaches often put him at center during practice because they knew he always played bigger than his size. “I could be just as strong, just as aggressive, with them being 6-foot-something and me being 5-foot-9,” he says. “It didn’t matter the shape or size. I was giving them all I got, competing, battling for rebounds, being strong under the rim.”
He boxes with that same mentality, and he loves his sport because there are no timeouts, do-overs or substitutions. Boxing is man on man … but it’s so much more than that. “You always hear coaches say, ‘You’ve got to be able to think and fight,’” he says. “You’ve got to be able to think—especially when you’re tired in the ring. You’ve already got a lot going on. Your body is fatigued. You’re trying to move from getting punched. You’re trying to punch. You’ve got to be able to think and go to your arsenal. You’ve got to think about your opponent and what he’s going to do. And when he does do something, what are you going to do after that?”
Alexander backs up that thinking-man’s attitude with hard work in the gym, a trait everyone who knows him points out … but not always to Alexander himself. Stewart rides him—hard—all day long. He wants his voice ringing in Alexander’s ears even when he’s not training him. “I’m hoarse in the gym. And even when he leaves, it’s, ‘Trey, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, start doing that.’ I’m screaming and hollering. He can never satisfy me,” Stewart says. “But there’s a method to my madness. I let him know that I’m proud of him and what he can accomplish. But he can always do better.”
‘THE TRUTH’ PREVAILS
Alexander’s military career has complemented his boxing in obvious ways. He has to be disciplined for both. He has to stay in shape for both. As one of his Facebook friends commented under a picture, his abs are so defined they look like they’ve been airbrushed. Stewart says when Alexander, who is a member of Stewart’s boxing team as well as the All-Army team, leads workouts at the gym in Houma, he incorporates core exercises he learned in the National Guard and uses military cadence to count them off.
In 2014, Alexander’s military service gave rise to a turning point in his boxing career in a way he never could have predicted. Indeed, his journey to becoming the two-time defending All-Army boxing champion started in an unusual place—in line for his annual Periodic Health Assessment (PHA).
Someone asked him what he did as a civilian. He said he was a boxer. Louisiana Army National Guard Captain Ronald Brown Jr., who was standing in line behind Alexander, overheard that. An avid boxing fan, Brown struck up a conversation with Alexander, and before too long, he would became an important mentor to the fledgling fighter.
Later that year, Alexander invited Brown to a fight, the 10th of his career. He had been undefeated in the first nine. To get to 10–0 would not be easy because his opponent was highly regarded. The bout seemed big at the time, and in the year and a half since, it has proved to be arguably the most important fight of Alexander’s career; at the very least, it sent him on the path to becoming the two-time defending All-Army champ.
The card was long that night, and after 15 fights or so, Brown began to wonder if Alexander was ever going to box. He walked up to the ring to find out when the young Soldier-athlete would compete. Right then, Brown says, the loudspeaker crackled and the announcer said the most anticipated match of the night was about to begin: Alexander against a boxer named Jerome Steib.
Since Brown was standing ringside when that announcement was made, he stayed there to watch. From that vantage point, he looked on as Steib leaned in to throw a right in the second round. Alexander ducked it and prepared to throw a combination—left hook, right hook. The left hook caught Steib flush on the jaw, sending him face-first to the mat. The fight was over, and Alexander never even had to finish the combination.
That knockout highlighted two of the traits that make Alexander an exemplary boxer. His dad says he’s great on defense, which he demonstrated by avoiding Steib’s punch. Stewart says that while Alexander is right-handed, he’s powerful in both hands, which he showed by knocking Steib out with his left. Alexander himself says the left hook is his favorite punch. “It just comes naturally to me,” he says. “I feel like every time I throw a left hook, I can hurt somebody.”
One of Alexander’s uncles was in attendance for the fight, and after the knockout, bestowed upon him a nickname: “The Truth.” Alexander likes it. “The Truth represents itself, and it stands by itself. Of course, there’s only one Truth,” he says.
A FIGHTING CHANCE
As for Brown, who was more than a little impressed by Alexander’s skills after witnessing the knockout ringside, a series of thoughts occurred to him. One was that his own mentor had always told him to give back to young Soldiers the kind of attention and care he had been given. Another was the memory of an old friend, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Gerard Abair, whose office is decorated with memorabilia from his own All-Army boxing career. Brown decided one way to give back would be to help Alexander make the All-Army boxing team.
Part of the All-Army Sports Program, the boxing team grants a select few Soldier-athletes from the Active and Reserve Components the opportunity to train and box in both military and nonmilitary competitions. Soldiers who move up through its ranks may even have a shot at entering the World Class Athlete Program or making the U.S. Olympic team, both of which are personal goals for Alexander. Boxers aspiring to the All-Army team must first apply to be selected, a process that sounds simpler than it often turns out to be.
Brown believed Alexander possessed the potential to land a spot on the team—talent, drive, power, discipline—but he lacked the needed connections. That’s where Brown came in. As a Veteran of the Guard, Brown knew the right people to talk to and how to navigate the system, and he deftly shepherded Alexander through the process. Brown’s savvy, combined with Alexander’s impressive record (which currently stands at 16 wins, three losses), eventually led to the up-and-coming boxer being accepted into the program, breezing through every round of cuts at the required All-Army trial camp, and then competing—and winning—both last fall and again in June at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
Not bad for a guy who, just three years ago, had never laced up a pair of boxing gloves.
So, where does he go from here? Even Alexander himself isn’t sure, and that’s at least in part because there are so many options available to him. Maybe he’ll remain an amateur boxer long enough to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Or he could go pro; long term, that’s likely the path he’ll pursue.
For now, though, his sights are set on winning more national tournaments. One avenue toward achieving that goal is the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), based in Fort Carson, CO. WCAP provides elite Soldier-athletes the chance to receive training from some of the country’s top coaches—while also maintaining a military career—and then to compete nationally and internationally in their sport, including at the Olympics. Alexander plans to apply for the program and hopes his back-to-back wins in All-Army tournaments, plus his June 24 victory at the USA Boxing–sanctioned National PAL championships, will help him gain entry.
Staff Sergeant Quentin McCoy, who’s stationed at Fort Carson as part of WCAP and who coached Alexander at the All-Army trial camps the last two years, views the boxer’s PAL tournament win as a sign of impressive growth. Last year, Alexander was beaten in the event's preliminary round. The difference, according to McCoy, is mental—Alexander was better prepared for the big time this year than he was last year.
McCoy says Alexander’s skill level far outpaces his experience. “He’s very technical. He has good balance. He can throw any punch,” he says. “He’s inexperienced, but you would never know he’s inexperienced. He has grown fast.”
Those in Alexander’s corner know he has what it takes to move up in the boxing world: raw talent, dedication and opportunities through the Guard.
“He has all the tools to become a world champion,” Stewart says. “There is nothing you can put in front of him in boxing that he won’t conquer. He just needs his opportunity.”
And as he showed against Amanda and Steib and even in line for a PHA, every time an opportunity presents itself, Alexander seizes it.
“We have yet to really see the best of him,” Stewart says. “It’s balled up in him, and it’s ready to come out. It’s coming. It’s coming.”
Punching drills are a staple of every boxer’s workout regimen, and their variations are almost countless. In addition to building strength and stamina, they help boxers hone footwork, increase speed and agility, and improve technique.
One heart-ripping version practiced by All-Army boxing champ SGT Trey Alexander focuses on three different pieces of gear. The first is a heavy punching bag. The second is hand pads, heavy gloves worn by his trainer that Alexander wails on. The third is a padded bodysuit; his trainer, wearing the suit, leans into Alexander, who must throw punches to keep the trainer off of him. The drill is one of many methods Alexander uses to maintain his explosive punching power. Here’s how he does it:
- 10 minutes on heavy bag
- 1 minute rest
- 10 minutes on hand pads
- 1 minute rest
- 10 minutes on bodysuit
Beginners can try this simple drill (simple, not easy) that provides a serious cardio workout while intensifying punching power:
- Stand in front of a heavy punching bag with feet planted, left foot slightly forward (reverse foot position if you’re left-handed)
- Throw a left-hand punch
- Throw a right-hand punch
- Continue for one minute
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Repeat for three total rounds
“In the beginning, a lot of people can’t get through 30 seconds of it,” says Lloyd Stewart, six-time Golden Gloves champion and Alexander’s coach.
Alexander loves to eat, and so far, he hasn’t adopted a strict diet. Instead, he lives by three rules when it comes to nutrition: avoid junk food, stay away from fatty meat and eat a ton of fruit.
Breakfast is, by far, his biggest meal of the day; he says he doesn’t eat much for lunch and often rests instead. He also drinks a lot of water before, during and after workouts but cuts back at night so he doesn’t carry unnecessary water weight into his morning fitness routine.
Here’s his menu* on a typical training day:
- Three-egg omelet with ham and cheese, 550 cals
- Fruit (his favorites are grapes, pineapple and oranges), 90 cals
- Handful, mixed nuts, 260 cals
- Two boiled eggs, 120 cals
- 6 oz. orange juice, 80 cals
- 14 oz. chocolate milk (he calls it “the best recovery drink”), 300 cals
- Roasted chicken salad (he often orders this from Subway), 140 cals
- Fruit, 120 cals
- Lean protein, such as 4 oz. of grilled chicken, 190 cals
- Fruit, 160 cals
*Calorie counts are approximations.