A former professional boxer reared in Baton Rouge suffered a gunshot wound to the head Monday night, forcing the man who once competed against some of the sport’s most illustrious superstars into a fight for his life.
Baton Rouge police said Emanuel Burton, also known as Emanuel Augustus, was shot about 8 p.m. Monday on Louisiana Avenue just a few blocks north of Government Street. He was found in the roadway between North 17th and Brice streets, not far from the North 14th Street Park boxing gym where he grew up training — a gym he returned to in the last few years after moving back to Baton Rouge following a lengthy boxing career.
The boxer remained in critical condition late Tuesday, said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman.
Born in Chicago, Augustus overcame a rocky childhood in foster care by capitalizing on his incredible athleticism, climbing high enough on the rungs of the professional boxing circuit to eventually square off against legends in the ring such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Micky Ward. The gritty boxer — who changed his last name to match that of his biological father after meeting the man midway through his career — fought competitively for more than a decade before retiring a few years ago and returning to Baton Rouge, said some of his friends and former mentors.
The details surrounding the shooting of Augustus remained unclear Tuesday.
A pair of red boxing gloves were found in the street where Augustus was shot. A plastic bag filled with unknown objects also sat near the gloves in a bloody section of the street.
Police on Tuesday had not identified any suspects or motives in the shooting. However, they released a photograph late Tuesday showing a red car leaving a nearby apartment complex on North 17th Street right before the shooting. Police suspect Augustus’ shooter might have been inside the car.
Chris Singleton, a Baton Rouge boxer who met Augustus about 15 years ago and still occasionally spars with him, said he went to visit his friend at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center on Tuesday. At least two dozen friends and family members of Augustus gathered there to support Augustus.
Singleton, 30, said he hadn’t learned much about the shooting.
“I just know he got shot in the back of the head,” Singleton said Tuesday morning. “And he’s on life support right now.”
Collis Temple Jr., known best for being LSU’s first black basketball player in the early 1970s, said he helped introduce Augustus to boxing about 25 years ago, when Augustus was living in a group home as a young teenager. Temple, who went on to start a nonprofit organization called Harmony Center Inc. that offers group home services, said he has seen Augustus occasionally during the past three years.
“He seemed to be doing OK,” Temple said. “He was either working out or going to work out” many of the times they saw each other. Temple described Augustus as a tough-minded, independent person with a strong will and solid work ethic.
Ron Katz, a matchmaker who knew Augustus best during the height of Augustus’ boxing career, described the athlete as an unorthodox boxer with exceptional toughness, heart and coordination.
“They used to call him The Drunken Master,” Katz, now a matchmaker for Star Boxing Inc. in New York, said, making a reference to the crowd-pleasing antics Augustus was known for. Augustus would swing his arms, dancing around the ring before surprising his opponents with a strong hook. “That was part of his routine and part of his strategy. It befuddled his opponents,” said Katz, who mostly worked with Augustus as a matchmaker for Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Inc.
“Emanuel beat some damn good fighters,” Katz said.
Eventually though, Katz told Augustus to hang up his gloves. The boxer was beat up in some of his final fights. He needed to move on from his career as a professional boxer, Katz said, although the fighter was reluctant to do so.
Frank Caruso, a former trainer and coach of Augustus’ back when the boxer’s name was still Burton, said he saw Augustus about a month ago. Augustus was watching some of his old friends compete at the Belle of Baton Rouge, Caruso said.
“He said he was about to start fighting,” Caruso said, recalling their conversation. “He said that’s all he knew.”
Caruso, a Baton Rouge police officer, said Augustus told him he left Texas — Augustus used to live in Brownsville — with few belongings. He didn’t have a suitcase or a driver’s license, Caruso said.
“It’s a pretty sad deal,” Caruso said. “He went from nothing to being a big-time fighter,” only to return to the capital city in search of work, dreaming to rebuild his life.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.