This guy is a hero and in the running for T-man of the year.
Six Reasons why Houston Alexander Fights
By Thomas Gerbasi
Houston Alexander doesn’t hear a thing.
Despite the roar of the crowd, the thumping beat of the entrance music blaring through arena speakers, and the shouts of his opponent’s cornermen, as well as his own team’s, nothing breaks the Nebraska fighter’s focus when
he enters the Octagon. He stares across at his opponent, who - for the next 15 minutes or less - will try to hurt him, make him bleed, or most importantly, take away what he has fought so hard for over the last six years.
It’s then that his intent becomes even more intense. He sees the faces of his six children, aged five to 16, and he thinks of them, what they’ve gone through, and where he hopes to take them. A win brings that goal closer; a loss, and it’s back to square one.
“I see this guy trying to take something from them by trying to take me out, and I’ve got to get him first,” says Alexander, who paces back and forth before the bell, waiting to be sent into battle. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll brush the right side of his torso with his fist, just as a reminder of what he would do for his children.
The year is 2000.
Fighting in the UFC isn’t even a dream at this point, nor is any type of professional prizefighting. Alexander is a working stiff like the rest of us, putting in long hours on a construction crew working with asphalt. Even talking about it years later, he sighs, “It was a very stressful, hard job.”
Yet in addition to sometime 10 hour shifts in the summer heat, Alexander - then the father of five - had more troubling issues on his mind. His oldest child, 10 year old daughter Elan, was born with a kidney dysfunction, and now the kidney was starting to give out on her. The decision he made next wasn’t tough for him, but it was monumental - he was tested and was a match for his daughter. Soon after, he gave Elan his kidney. A week later, he was back at work.
“I was the only breadwinner for the family, so we needed the money,” said Alexander, now 35. Elan, now 16, is doing well, and her father can see her doing all the things every typical teenager does. It wouldn’t have been possible without his sacrifice, but if you want him to give himself a deserving pat on the back, it’s not going to happen.
“I’m pretty sure if other family members needed to step up to the plate that they would have,” he said. “It just happened to be me. But it’s good to see that she’s healthy and that she can be normal. That’s what I’m striving for now - I’m striving for normalcy for my kids.”
A year later, Alexander started fighting on a dare. Soon after, he started taking it more seriously and began learning the finer points of mixed martial arts as he entered the pro ranks. But whether it was fighting in amateur smokers in tiny halls or nightclubs or before 15,000 people in the UFC, his kids were always his motivation.
“I don’t know why these other guys fight, but I fight for a reason,” he said. “That’s why I fight so passionately.”
Fast forward to May of 2007. The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It’s the biggest UFC show in years, with Chuck Liddell defending his light heavyweight crown against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. A 35-year old with seven confirmed pro fights enters the Octagon for the first time against 205-pound contender Keith Jardine. Jardine is fresh off a knockout win over Forrest Griffin, and the fact that he is matched up against this veritable MMA neophyte is seen as a gimme, a keep-busy reward until a bigger fight comes along.
But Alexander didn’t get the memo stating that he was brought in to lose to Jardine, and he shatters any preconceptions in just 48 seconds - the time it took for him to send his opponent crashing to the deck after a vicious uppercut.
“Get up,” screamed an adrenaline-jacked Alexander to Jardine after the fight was halted, and suddenly, fight fans had a new hero, a Mike Tyson for the MMA crowd without all the out of the ring baggage the former heavyweight boxing champion lugged around. Here was a guy who talked of bringing the passion back to the sport, and actually delivered on his promise, something made even more vivid in his next fight at UFC 75 in September when he blasted out Alessio Sakara at 1:01 of the first round.
“I don’t like wasting time,” he said. “I picture myself in the audience and I’m watching myself. How would I want to see myself fight? I would love to see myself go after the individual.”
As for the Tyson comparisons, Alexander says, “I was probably one of the biggest fans. I watched him when he won the championship and that’s the first glimpse I got of him. I never seen anybody hit that hard. I saw him hit one guy with a left hook that sent the guy flying 15 feet. I told myself, ‘that’s how I want to hit.’ This guy was hitting like that at 19, and a lot of grown men couldn’t even handle that. That’s how I want to fight people. I want to hit 'em that hard where they can’t handle it.”
It’s why Jardine got rocked and sent on the road to defeat by a right hand delivered while in a clinch, a position usually known as a “safe zone” for knockout punches. It’s also why Sakara, a former pro boxer who met with some success in the sweet science, opted to go for a takedown after tasting some of Alexander’s power, only to be tossed aside like a rag doll before knees ended the fight.
Alexander just chuckles, and whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, you can hear the clicks. Soon, he puts the hand grips up to the phone receiver so you can hear them better.
“Hand squeezers, every day,” he laughs. “That’s why I’m heavy-handed. Now my secret is out.”
Not likely, but for Alexander, who has been lifting weights since the fifth grade and who can bench press close to 450 pounds, power has been his ticket to a new level in the UFC where each one of his fights is now ‘must see’ TV, because let’s face it - everyone loves a knockout artist. Luckily for the UFC, Alexander is just as cordial and accessible with the media and the fans as he is merciless with opponents. In other words, he wears his celebrity well.
“I’m 35 years old, so I think I’m able to handle it better than the youngest guys,” he explains. “At 25, it would probably go to your head, with people saying that no one could beat you, and the way everyone’s talking around me, they’re giving me the belt before I even earn it, so I keep telling these people, ‘I have to earn this belt, I have to earn my rank, and I don’t want anything given to me.’ You can’t say I’m the next champ because I have to earn it.”
Again, Alexander - who returns to the Octagon this Saturday night against unbeaten Thiago Silva - credits his children for his ability to stay humble in circumstances that would give anyone else a swelled head.
“When I’ve got to walk through the door and pick up clothes, that humbles me right there, and that is my final answer,” he laughs. “Kids will humble you quick. Anytime they choose WWE over UFC, that’s quite humbling. They like Batista, and I’m no Batista. I’m not (John) Cena; I’m Dad who fights.”
He’s also Dad the taskmaster and Dad the referee, as interviews are sometimes punctuated by him telling his kids to do their chores or to make sure they’re sharing the video game they’re playing. But these aren’t burdens on him; it’s part of who he is as a single parent with custody of all of his children, and why he wants to show the world a different side of professional athletes.
“I wouldn’t want to disappoint people like that,” said Alexander when talking about ‘going Hollywood’. “I have a lot of people looking up to me, specifically the kids, and I have a whole community of people who stand behind me, so I have to watch what I say and watch what I do because I consider myself a role model. I don’t care what other professional athletes say when they say ‘oh, I’m not a role model.’ Yes you are, because there are a lot of kids who pattern themselves as a Michael Jordan or a Walter Payton. And I’m not a perfect guy, but I’m gonna try to do my best to guide a lot of individuals that are looking up to me. I know my role and I know why God put me in this position. I came out of nowhere, and I’m a nobody to a lot of these people still, but God put me in this position for a reason, and I think that reason was to show everyday individuals that this can happen for you.”
And if having six kids and fighting athletes trained to separate your head from your shoulders isn’t enough pressure, you would think that being a role model to strangers would definitely do the trick. Not so, says Alexander.
“There’s no pressure because I’m gonna act like myself,” he said. “I’ve been this way for years, and nothing’s gonna change me. How you see me in interviews, how you talk to me over the phone, and how we’re talking in person, this is how I am. Nothing’s gonna change me from being who I am. I’m a standup dude, I’m a loyal guy, I’m a hardworking guy and I’m a family guy, and you don’t want to mess with too many family guys because the stress of having kids itself is more than enough to tick you off. (Laughs)”
And you don’t want to tick off Alexander, because even with guys he’s liked and respected like Jardine and Sakara, he’s fought them like they kicked his dog before the bell rang. But in this business, you’re only as good as your last fight, and Alexander still has doubters to convert when he fights Silva on Saturday night. He’s fine with that though, just like he’s fine with those who question his ground game or stamina.
“No one cares about Chuck Liddell’s ground game,” he deadpans. “And I’ve got two words for the UFC fans who are saying that - Bob Schirmer. He is possibly one of the best jiu-jitsu and judo guys in the world, and his team has won tournaments all over the world. I’m working with him, plus I’ve got my own homegrown Curly Alexander. He’s one of the best wrestling coaches in the Midwest. He has over 35 years of experience of coaching top wrestlers. So all I’ve got to do is mention those two guys. And I’m wrestling with All-Americans every other day, so they shouldn’t have to worry about that - they should worry about getting past that first line of defense. If they can’t get past that, they’re not gonna see the ground game. Worry about the fists and the knees first.”
As for his gas tank, having only fought a combined 1:49 in his two UFC bouts, he says, “Whenever it goes to the second round, which I highly doubt, then I’ll take a deep breath and come out the same way I did in the first round. We don’t train for a round or for the first two minutes. My coaches and I train for a whole fight.”
But with his six kids in his mind and his two fists and two knees always at the ready, Houston Alexander’s already got every opponent outnumbered.