The Duality of Houston Alexander
Sep 26, 2019 04:04PM
By J.D. Avant
Houston Alexander is in love with two art forms. He works hard catering to both of his passions, maintaining a foothold in the metro area’s burgeoning hip-hop scene while fighting for worldwide promotions as a professional mixed-martial arts combatant.
Alexander has found success in the world of MMA, traveling across the nation to headline big-time bouts in Bellator and UFC. At the same time, he is a staple in urban radio, hosting independent shows like the Neighborhood Watch on Omaha’s Power 106.9.
Hip-hop is ingrained in the man’s soul, while training and fighting is his way of life. This is why Alexander sees these activities as interconnected.
“I’m a strong believer in the concept of old people learning from the young, and youngsters learning from their elders," he says. "Hip-hop and MMA are strong examples of how this approach can help a culture thrive.”
The ideologies of combat and hip-hop culture may be an offhanded comparison for some, but Alexander has used both to make a name for himself. Entering a sparsely populated coffee shop dressed in a gym-ready black T-shirt, cap, and sweatpants, he greets everyone with the air of a local celebrity; flashing a smile before shaking hands and taking pictures.
Alexander gives everyone a chance to experience his magnetic aura, a quality his long-time coach and uncle, Curlee Alexander, appreciates. A successful combatant and mentor, Curlee’s multiple accolades include the NAIA Wrestling Championship and induction into the UNO Hall of Fame. He believes that his nephew’s good looks and charisma have made him very marketable in the world of professional MMA.
“I can remember one fight that Houston lost in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Curlee recalls. “Afterwards, he made sure to hang out with the fans and sign autographs. The winner just came out of the locker room and walked past all of those people without even being recognized. I told Houston then; not every fighter has the gift of charm.”
Alexander admits that he avoided his uncle’s intense training regimen for his state championship-winning wrestlers back in his student days at North High.
“I always admired the physiques of the wrestlers he was coaching, but I stayed away from his sessions. They were always too hot!”
But when Monte Cox Promotions presented Alexander with the chance to fight one of the top-five-ranked fighters in the world, he immediately sought out his uncle’s expertise. Curlee would bring in heavyweight wrestlers and state champions from around the metro area to train his nephew in preparation for his UFC debut in 2007.
The hardcore sessions paid off, and Alexander would go on to win over Keith Jardine with a first round knockout within 48 seconds of the bout.
“The only difficulty I had training Houston was his stubbornness,” Curlee says. “I knew that was because he didn’t have much formal training. He was more of a street fighter, so I tell him if he gives me 30 pounds and 30 years I will kick his butt.”
Alexander credits a wide range of gyms and trainers for his success in the MMA ring, including Joseph Baudler, Ryan Jensen, C.W. Boxing Club, and the Combat-Do Martial Arts School in Illinois where he learned dirty jiujitsu.
“Houston developed a unique punch where he hits a guy in the thigh to throw them off balance,” Curlee explains. “This kind of move is illegal in boxing, but it works well in MMA. I’ve seen other fighters adapt the technique into their own fights.”
A student of the sport, Alexander calls boxing legend Mike Tyson the greatest fighter of all time, but declares the fabled war between “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Thomas “the Hitman” Hearns as his all-time favorite fight.
“I just remember the guy with the Jheri curl lost,” Alexander jokes.
High praise is also directed towards current WBO welterweight champion and Omaha native Terrence Crawford. Alexander is quick to point out DMX’s song “What’s My Name?” as a shared entrance theme between Crawford and himself.
“That track has the aggressive attitude that we crave before combat,” he says.
A telling gleam appears in Alexander’s eyes when he mentions the song, and the conversation effortlessly switches to hip-hop. A lifelong fan of rap music, he recalls his first taste of the young art form, listening in his father’s car back in East St. Louis.
“When I heard ‘The Breaks’ by Curtis Blow it was over,” he says. “After that, I immersed myself in hip-hop culture. I purchased my first rap single, ‘Pack Jam’ by the Jonzun Crew, and my first album was Teaching You How to Breakdance. I still have the poster that came with it giving step-by-step instructions on how to move.”
The East Coast is credited as the birthplace of hip-hop, which explains why an early adopter from the Midwest would choose to specialize in many of the culture’s fundamental elements including graffiti, break dancing, and DJ’ing.
“When people think of hip-hop, I want them to think of the culture created by pioneers like DJ Hollywood and Kool Herc out of the Bronx,” Alexander says. “Block parties, graffiti, break dancing, and true emcees are all a part of the hip-hop experience. I grew up loving the great rap songs from innovators like Run-DMC, Kool Moe Dee, and KRS-One, and I still enjoy today’s real emcees like Kendrick Lamar.”
Michael Dunham has watched Alexander navigate between the worlds of hip-hop, radio, and MMA since the beginning. Known as DJ Rip on the airwaves, Dunham is a founding member of the Alliance All-Star B-Boys crew and current owner-operator of the nationwide branding and marketing company, The Spin Firm. He remembers when Alexander was an energetic local graffiti artist and break-dancer nicknamed Scrib from the Scribble Crew.
“Houston’s persona started way back in the 1980s when we were creating the foundation of Omaha’s local hip-hop scene,” Dunham says. “Before radio we created Alliance Records and dropped a single in 1997 called ‘Rock the B-Boy Language.’ When I helped Bizzy B launch Hot 107.7 in the early 2000s I knew Houston would be perfect for our promotional team. He had the hottest name in the streets.”
Alexander quickly moved from promotions to running his own independent radio show on Hot 107.7, Sunday Night Raw. When the popular station grew into Power 106.9, Alexander stayed on as one of the station's most popular voices.
“Houston brought credibility, local independent artist love, and hip-hop knowledge to the radio station,” Dunham says. “Urban Radio needs a foot in the street and credibility to be successful. Houston was our key to success.”
While Dunham is able to recall many fond memories of their legacy in hip-hop, he cites Alexander’s philanthropic work through his Houston Alexander Foundation as his most awe-inspiring accomplishment. His ongoing Culture Shock Tour has been a huge success, educating children about leadership, hip-hop lifestyle and culture since 2003.
“Houston is teaching the history of a black music genre in our children’s schools. Just let that sink in,” Dunham says before making a bold declaration. “Houston Alexander is one of the pillars of this city’s notable sports figures. He’s this generation’s Johnny Rogers.”
Alexander is humble when talking about his charitable work, recalling his younger days helping the MAD DADS organization, and speaking at President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light nonprofit organization. Hip-hop and martial-arts culture are integral to his cause, offering free personal training sessions, self-defense classes, mural projects, and anti-bullying programs to uplift the youth.
“I think it was my destiny to be involved with my community and help kids,” Alexander says. “I just try to live by my grandmother and mother’s simple rule—always do the right thing.”
And he can often be found doing the right thing, whether in the fighting ring, behind the mic, or in the community.
Visit houstonalexander.org for more information about the man and his charitable work.This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.