The near-fatal shooting of former fighter Emanuel Augustus – by all accounts, he remains in critical condition – recalled one of the more curious weekends a lot of boxing writers, myself included, ever were a part of. The contrast between what happened in The Palace at Auburn Hills, in a tony suburb of Detroit, on Oct. 20, 2000, was in stark contrast to what happened one night later, in Motown’s gritty, old Cobo Hall. Those two very different bouts should have reminded everyone in attendance at both events that success in boxing owes as much to intangibles – heart, determination, a refusal to succumb to adversity – as to physical talent. True greatness in the ring can only be achieved when a fighter is blessed with heaping measures of skill and of will, qualities that are not mutually inclusive.
The headliner for the high-visibility, big-bucks extravaganza at The Palace – prime ringside seats had a then-record face value of $2,500 (attendance was 16,228), and the subscription price for the much-anticipated Showtime pay-per-view telecast was $49.95 – was two-time former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, still the biggest draw in the sport despite, or maybe because of, his burgeoning reputation as something of an unhinged wild man. That sinister image owed in large part to “Iron Mike’s” chomping of Evander Holyfield’s ears in their rematch three years earlier, but, not surprisingly, in his first post-chew outing, against Frans Botha, Tyson had blatantly tried to break the South African’s arm during a clinch, a transgression of civility that was overlooked by referee Richard Steele en route to Tyson’s fifth-round knockout victory.
In Cobo Hall, the main attraction was a not-quite-yet-at-the-top-of-his-game Floyd Mayweather Jr., the then-23-year-old WBC super featherweight champion whose purse for the non-title 12-rounder, $250,000, was mere tip money compared to the megamillions he pulls down today.
But, in retrospect, the real stories of those companion bouts belonged to neither Tyson nor to Mayweather. The real drama was furnished by the superstars’ opponents. Tyson was paired against the “Foul Pole,” Poland’s Andrew Golota, a big man blessed with power and boxing ability as well as being saddled with an inner fear that frequently overcame him during inopportune moments. Mayweather was to swap punches with Augustus, then known as Emanuel Burton, a competent tradesman who lacked elite abilities, but who compensated for that shortcoming with an inexhaustible supply of gumption and want-to.
In Golota, the world again saw a fighter who might have become a champion, or at least a major force in the heavyweight division for a long time, again implode in a cloud of shame and recrimination. In Augustus, we saw a presumed no-hoper give one of the most gifted fighters in the planet all he could handle, simply because the designated victim didn’t realize he wasn’t in there to, you know, actually win.
Golota flat-out quit at the end of the second round, confirming what many had already believed about him, his act of surrender punctuated by his shoving of his new trainer, 72-year-old Al Certo, as well as of referee Frank Garza, each of whom were trying to get him to get back to doing what he was being paid handsomely (a reported $2.2 million) to do, which was to fight.
“I’m sorry for all my fans who count on me,” Golota, nearly in tears, said afterward as the full implication of his career suicide must have been setting in. “It was not my day. But he head-butt me, you know? And nobody took care of this, you know? Nobody gave (Tyson) a warning.”
By attempting to blame Garza, and Tyson, Golota dishonored only himself. It hardly seemed to matter that the announced result – a third-round TKO win for Tyson – later was changed to a no-decision by the Michigan boxing commission after Tyson tested positive for marijuana.
The 6-4, 240-pound Golota, of course, had already established himself as the loosest of cannons with myriad demonstrations of mindless sabotage. He was twice beating up Riddick Bowe before a spate of low blows resulted in disqualification defeats in fights he appeared to be winning handily. A bronze medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the winner of an unprecedented seven Polish national amateur titles, Golota also bit Samson Po’uha on the neck in their May 16, 1995, bout in Atlantic City, but the referee didn’t penalize him and he went on to win on a fifth-round stoppage. It was more or less the same story on March 15, 1996, when Golota blatantly head-butted Danell Nicholson, also in Atlantic City. Again Golota avoided disqualification, and he took out Nicholson in eight rounds. And Golota was far ahead on points in his Nov. 20, 1999, meeting with Michael Grant when, after being knocked down in the 10th round, he rose and indicated to referee Randy Neumann that he’d had enough.
“I don’t think Andrew is a coward,” Tyson’s perplexed trainer for the fight at The Palace, Tommy Brooks, assessed after Golota again had run up the white flag. “He has anxiety attacks. Mainly, he’s a front-runner. Once the tide turns in a fight, he folds the tent.”
Folding the tent, regardless of the circumstances, was not Augustus’ style, and he again showed that with his gutty performance against the vastly more talented Mayweather the night after Golota had given up in a fight he probably wouldn’t have won in any case, but in which he at least had a chance to redeem himself to some degree.
Against Mayweather –still known as “Pretty Boy” then, not “Money” – Augustus proved that there was much more to him than his nondescript record (22-16-4, with 10 wins inside the distance) might have indicated. The end came as expected when Augustus, his face swollen and bleeding from the nose and left ear, had taken three consecutive left hooks to the body in the ninth round of the scheduled 10-round. With their fighter well behind on points, Augustus’ cornermen began waving white towels, prompting referee Dan Grable to step in and wave a halt to the surprisingly competitive contest.
Not surprising, though was Augustus’ angry reaction to the stoppage. He figured he still had more than a round to land that tide-turning shot and possibly shock the world, and even if it didn’t happen, hell, he wasn’t the kind to ever give up.
“But I’m not hurt,” Augustus told Grable in animated but futile protest. “Come on, don’t stop it.”
Augustus’ manager, Luis DeCubas, said his guy had fought too hard and too well to be exposed to continued punishment in a fight he couldn’t win.
“Emanuel’s left hand was screwed up, his right hand was gone,” DeCubas said. “He had nothing left to hurt Floyd with. Why would I leave the kid in there to get killed. That’s not right. But I tell you, Emanuel has the biggest heart in boxing, and he proved that today.”
Despite the apparent ease with which he was winning, Mayweather didn’t come out of the scrap unscathed. When Grable stepped in and wrapped his arms around Augustus, Mayweather’s nose was dripping blood and his face was uncharacteristically blotchy.
Before Mayweather took on Miguel Cotto in 2012, he said, “If I was rating certain fighters out of every guy that I fought, I’m going to rate Emanuel Augustus first compared to all the guys that I’ve faced. He didn’t have the best record in the sport of boxing, he has never won a world title, but he came to fight and, of course, at that particular time, I had took a long layoff (seven months).”
Augustus is perhaps best-known for his putting Mayweather to one of his sternest tests, but that was hardly his only career highlight. Known as the “Drunken Master” for his penchant for fake-staggering around the ring, likely a ploy to draw opponents into his hitting zone, Augustus dropped a 10-round decision to the rugged Micky Ward on July 13, 2001. The ESPN2-televised brawl as so action-packed that it was named Fight of the Year by, among others, The Ring magazine and USA Today.
Losing with courage is still losing, however, and Augustus concluded his professional career on Jan. 29, 2011, the eight-round unanimous-decision defeat at the hands of Vernon Paris – on the undercard of the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Devon Alexander junior welterweight unification bout at the Silverdome, in Pontiac, Mich. – left him with a final mark of 38-34-6, with 20 wins as well as five losses inside the distance. Never a champion, or even a serious contender (he never got a shot at a widely recognized world title), it was Augustus’ destiny to simply fade away, a mostly unremembered footnote to boxing history.
Even the particulars of his near-death – the Chicago native was shot in the head (Christopher Sills was arrested several days later) in his adopted home of Baton Rouge, La., close to a gym where the 39-year-old Augustus sometimes sparred – was hardly headline news. In Louisiana’s capital city, the citizenry was far more interested in the LSU football team’s last-second, 30-27 victory at Florida three days earlier than in the shooting of a retired boxer who never really attained star status there or anywhere else.
But the fact that Emanuel Augustus is hanging on, fighting for his life with the tenacity he always exhibited inside the ropes, stands as incontrovertible proof of two things:
One, the man always could take one hell of a shot.
And two, he can never be likened to Andrew Golota.