- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Emanuel Augustus stands outside his fiancée’s apartment on dead-end Grant Street, his arm wrapped around a black Everlast punching bag as he tries to sum up his years in the ring.

“I’ve been in some incredible fights,” he says, sketching out his time in professional boxing as a stubborn but flamboyant fighter. It was a hardscrabble career in which he won fame and admiration but no lasting wealth.

Repeated blows and ravages of age pushed him further to the fringes of the sport and away from the once-regular purses, the paydays that left him with tax debts but penniless.

And then there’s the bullet that caught him at the base of the skull in 2014 as he walked through the Mid-City neighborhood where he’d been sleeping rough.

He can’t say much about the shooting - “I don’t know how it happened,” he says.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office decided to drop charges against Christopher Stills, who was accused of firing the bullet that passed through Augustus’ head and left him in a coma for two weeks, battling for his life.

Baton Rouge police said Stills, then 21 years old, was in an argument with his cousin as they drove down Louisiana Avenue. Stills then slammed on the brakes, stepped out of the car and fired off a few rounds, a report said. Though the shots were aimed at no one in particular, one struck Augustus, who was walking by.

Augustus says he doesn’t believe that version of events - the bullet was too well-placed to have been a stray, he says - but can’t prove it either way.

For those who know Augustus, the circumstances of his shooting are the latest in a long line of breaks that have never gone the boxer’s way. A highlight reel posted on YouTube of some of his greatest moments in the ring is titled “Boxing’s most cheated fighter.”

Born Emanuel Burton in Chicago, Augustus never knew his parents growing up. He first learned to box as a street fighter, someone ready to brawl at the slightest insult and with a determination and toughness that would serve him well in his pro career.

“I was an angry, angry person,” Augustus says. “My whole life, I was basically lied to, and I didn’t find out until my early 20s. All this time I was taken from my parents, done this to, done that to, taken from one group home to the next.”

In his late teens, Augustus discovered organized boxing when he walked into the gym on 14th Street and met trainer Frank James.

He forged a close relationship with James, a staple of the Baton Rouge boxing scene who died in 2006 at the age of 47.

“He was completely raw but he had the mental attitude,” said Frankie Caruso, a retired Baton Rouge policeman who coached for years at the 14th Street gym.

Augustus found himself relegated to working as what boxing insiders call a “gatekeeper” - a ferociously tough journeyman against whom to test up-and-coming younger fighters.

A particularly notorious decision against Augustus followed a 10-round bout in 2004 with Courtney Burton in Michigan. It led to calls for an official investigation and left boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas, who was calling the fight for ESPN, outraged.

“He won this damn fight; this is a disgrace!” screamed Atlas as he harangued a Michigan boxing official on national TV.

And even when a big breakthrough seemed just around the corner, something seemed to hold him back.

Mayweather, perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of his generation, has consistently called Augustus the toughest fighter he’s ever faced. But with a slew of tough losses on his record and without friends in high places, the big opportunities never came Augustus’ way.

But despite the procession of televised fights and entertaining bouts with some of the biggest stars, the money never poured in.

The end - though not his last fight - came during a stint fighting in Australia. Augustus took an offer to fight up a weight class against then-24-year-old Nigerian welterweight Wale Omotoso.

“I didn’t take into account that I’d moved up in weight - I didn’t have to and I damn sure shouldn’t have, but I did,” Augustus says. “I had this superman mentality because I was from America. I thought, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter what weight I’m at because these guys, they don’t know nothing about boxing. I’ll go over and teach these guys some things, make good money and I’ll get my life back on track and move on.’ The exact opposite happened. They showed me.”

The shoe dropped in the final round when Omotoso, who’d been jabbing with his left throughout the fight, connected with a big right hook that sent Augustus staggering.

“He lowered the boom, and that’s all she wrote,” Augustus says.

By the time Augustus got back to Baton Rouge a few years ago most of his possessions were gone and he struggled to find work outside the ring. A fiercely independent, proud person, Augustus also didn’t call on friends for help and wound up living in shelters on the street.

Though he now struggles with his balance and memory and occasionally gets dizzy walking around the house, he insists he’s training for a comeback and bristles at the suggestion he ever retired from boxing.

“No matter how bad I want to get back in the ring and fight, who the hell is going to OK it?” Augustus says. “So now, how am I supposed to make money? What kind of life am I supposed to live? What kind of life is this, being handicapped on the slick?”

“Now what?”

___

Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com


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