by Paul Magno
In 1998, Emanuel Augustus fought in Denmark, Louisiana, and the United Kingdom…Not over the course of a year, but in a 22-day span.
In Denmark, he fought well-regarded hometown hero, Soren Sondergaard to a draw. Eight days later he was in New Orleans, Lousiana, knocking out club fighter, Eduardo Martinez. Then, back on the plane and over to the UK ten days later to take on tough John Thaxton in a KO 7 win for IBF/WBO Inter-Continental titles.
Forget his seven other fights that same year (in 6 different cities, 4 different states with 1 contest in Germany), that 22-day span, alone, would be enough to run any fighter into the ground. The fact that Augustus managed a 2-0-1 record in those three contests is a testament to how good Augustus was and it provides proof as to just how good he could’ve been.
Anyone with even a marginally trained eye can still see the flashes of brilliance in Augustus, even at a war-ravaged 35 years of age and even in losing efforts against young, hungry, fresh prospects.
Educated hands, smart movement and fluid punch selection…It’s still on display in brief glimpses, but you can also see that the life force has been squeezed from this talented fighter. August is fighting on smarts and instincts alone and he’s still somewhat competitive with hotshot prospects and fringe contenders, but now he’s starting to take some serious punishment.
His most recent fight, a September 25th loss to a protected and marginally well-regarded 13-0 prospect, Charles Hatley, was further evidence of a real and noticeable decline in both punch resistance and overall reflexes as Augustus was sent to the canvas twice in the eight rounder. Prior to that, he suffered a real physical beating against undefeated Russian prospect, Ruslan Provodnikov, getting dropped three times in the nine round TKO loss.
In the past, Augustus could show up ill-prepared and ill-rested and still give the undefeated hometown hero a major battle. Nowadays, lesser fighters are starting to cause some serious damage to boxing’s “Drunken Master” and the end is clearly in sight for a fighter gifted with world class ability and reflexes, but also world class character flaws.
At 38-33-6 (20 KOs), Augustus will not be getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon, but the record alone doesn’t begin to tell the story of a fighter who, under the right circumstances, could’ve been so much more.
Emanuel Augustus has always been his own worst enemy. By jumping from manager to manager, listening to none and always drifting off to do his own thing in the end, he facilitated the mad dash to use and abuse his talents. Often on short notice and nearly always in the backyard of his opponent, Augustus fights were frequently controversial and almost always entertaining battles as he’d alternate his ring style between true, brawling grit and master showmanship.
When he felt good, we’d get the juking and jiving Drunken Master, bouncing and twisting like a marionette tied to a ceiling fan; When he felt mean, he’d go toe to toe with his rival, rifling off five and six shots at a time and daring his rival to fire back.
But without any sort of guidance (or desire to be guided), Augustus’ world-class talents were raffled off to the highest bidder, forcing him into situations where the young prospects he was up against would pull out the win regardless of what actually happened in the ring.
Easily a third of the losses on his record could be overturned on review and more than a handful can be explained by the absolutely insane schedule Augustus kept in his physical prime. Another couple could be singled out by some as flat-out hired losses (aka dives).
The frustrating thing about Emanuel Augustus’ career is that it could’ve been so, so different.
With the proper management and fight selection early on, it’s easy to envision an alternate Earth where Augustus, at the tail-end of a Hall of Fame career, is still the reigning jr. welterweight king, fending off young challengers like Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander, and Amir Khan.
Instead, he’s the guy who tortured himself with twelve fights from October ’97 to September ’98; The guy who went from battling Micky Ward in Ring Magazine’s 2001 Fight of the Year to going back to the ring two months later against Leonard Dorin; The guy who fought 25 undefeated fighters and 38 fighters with one loss or less over a sixteen year career (In comparison, Oscar De la Hoya only fought 9 undefeated fighters while Manny Pacquiao has topped out at 7); And he’s the guy who insisted on taking quick pay-outs at the expense of his career’s long-term health.
It’s always a shame to see talent go to waste, even if the fighter in question only has himself to blame. At this point, we’ll never know how good a fully-realized August could have been. We have Floyd Mayweather’s assertion that Augustus, to this day, was his toughest fight. But all we really have is highlights, assumptions and brief glimpses of brilliance.
No other sport eats its own more often and with greater enjoyment than boxing. Fighters without the proper connections go straight into the sport’s virtual meat grinder. There’s no mercy in boxing. Every manager and promoter is looking to corral the weak and feed them to their own guys. A fighter like Emanuel Augustus, despite his obvious abilities, will always be devoured whole by a sport where the market for a competent loser is almost as great as the demand for a dominant winner.
None of this really mattered much in the past as an Emanuel Augustus fight was always “must see” TV for all real fight fans. Augustus vs. anybody was going to be an entertaining drama between a well-regarded prospect and this seemingly crazy whirlwind with a horrible record and tremendous talent.
But it’s no fun to watch Emanuel Augustus fight anymore. Time, abuse, and the overwhelming odds of existing outside the system have finally caught up with one of boxing’s most entertaining characters.
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