LaPORTE, Ind. – He seems like the same Courtney Burton, but it’s hard to qualify that.
This camp, this time around, Burton is more focused. He’s more – church-going?
“It goes like this,” he said. “I took it up upon myself. I feel good for the first time. I turned my life over to the Lord.”
Ironically it was beating a Jesus freak, the now retired Angel Manfredy, that brought Burton to prominence a few years ago. He’s hoping living, eating, praying and training right will lead to his own resurrection.
Trainer and promoter Malcolm Garrett stood by his fighter after Teddy Atlas, Joe Tessitore and the rest of the Grand Rapids, Mich., crowd booed Burton’s decision over Emanuel Augustus in 2004. Garrett professes to have the goods, an off-camera recording, of a conspiracy by Atlas and Tessitore to “get those guys.” Those guys being the inept Michigan boxing officials.
The cut and dry of the situation – if you haven’t seen the fight’s numerous replays on ESPN Classic – is: Augustus spun out of a clinch and the referee deducted crucial points.
Garrett has tapes and has analyzed them. He invited me over to his home to watch the blow-by-blow account of each round. The thought immediately brings about the same cold sweat of the dull Saturday mornings after a Fright night football game, staring blankly at the same footage while coach barks, “Where the hell were you on that tackle?”
Garrett is barking about where the crowd or anyone would see Burton’s win as less than aboveboard.
Needling as the memory may be, Garrett has his information straight. Every punch accounted for, down to the feint. The point, however, is moot. Burton won’t lose the victory; not unless someone springs forward with a steroid-tainted syringe bearing Burton’s DNA on the tip.
The only thing that may help Garrett sleep better at night is Burton (21-5-0) tearing Augustus (32-27-6) apart at the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.
“This means as much to me as it does his career,” Garrett said. “I firmly believe we won the first fight. Now we’ve got the opportunity to prove the naysayer wrong.
“The phone is not ringing right now. If we go out there and have a good performance against Augustus, the phone’s going to be ringing.”
The footage means little to Burton. He’s on a personal quest to improve himself. Much was made of him living at Chicago’s Windy City Boxing Gym before he dismantled Angel Manfredy in Hammond in 2003. HBO presented a segment before the bout, highlighting the Spartan quarters in which Burton lived for months. No air-conditioning, just strict training.
Burton’s grown enough since to admit he wasn’t completely true to the lifestyle.
“I’d sneak out at night,” he said. “I’d buy some candy, some chips.”
Not exactly Arturo Gatti’s Atlantic City party life we’re dealing with here. Other camps in Chicago involved sneaking more junk food and girls back to the gym, Garrett said.
Training camp behavior hasn’t been Burton’s downfall in life. The trouble involves Garrett getting Burton away from his Benton Harbor, Mich., home and into Garrett’s LaPorte training camp some 30 miles away. The calls infuriated Garrett more than they coaxed Burton, who delayed because of financial obligations to his fiancée.
Burton trained at home for his first contest against Augustus. Former trainer Napoleon Lark was to look after him – as he always had – but Burton still slacked on his training.
“The kid was just doing what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it,” Garrett said. “When we brought him down for the weigh-in, he was 10 pounds overweight, and he was already fighting a weight class over. That told me the shape he was in was no shape at all.”
Fatigue settled in during the middle and late rounds for Burton so much that it was only at Garrett’s urging that Burton answered the bell after the seventh round.
Camp couldn’t come soon enough for Burton. He pestered Garrett long before any contracts or verbal agreements could be drawn between any parties.
“You’ve got to take it upon yourself, you know what you have to do,” Burton said. “You have to come back and fight.”
The remote northwestern Indiana training camp has few distractions beyond cars passing the long, wooded driveway in excess of the 45 mph designation. In LaPorte, the bars are open until 2 a.m., but everything else shuts down around 10 p.m. and the streets are relatively quiet compared those on which he lived in Benton Harbor.
He’s cut back on the junk food altogether, a product of slowly weaning himself that started a few fights ago. The trail to making amends wouldn’t be complete unless he attending church regularly.
Burton isn’t one to talk about his social life before that point, at least not in any publishable discussions.
“I’ve got a lot of friends, they’re gone,” said Burton, who incurred a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge a few years ago. “There’s 25-30 that are in prison. I see the road they’re going and I saw I was going down that road.
“I got looking and thinking: Boy, you’ve got to change your ways; you’re going to be locked up in prison or dead.”
Life changes that stick have yet to be tested, but after suffering three straight losses since Augustus, this training camp may be the sign of a rebirth in Burton’s hit and miss career.
“I think Courtney is very sure of himself because he knows he’s trained good,” Garrett said. “Friday night’s going to tell what we’ve got left.”