By Sean Waisglass: Two hearty pros will be dishing out two-fisted punishment tonight when former lightweight contender Courtney Burton, 20-2 (11), of Benton Harbour, Michigan moves up to 140lbs and meets top-shelf journeyman/fringe contender Emanuel Augustus, 28-24-6 (13), now fighting out of Brownsville, Texas. It's a potential barn-burner since an impressive winner could put himself in line for a high profile payday in one of boxing's hottest and deepest divisions as junior welterweight is flush with fan-friendly contenders, champs, and prospects.
The match is the main event at the L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Michigan, which makes it a home-turf tussle for Burton. That should only sway the crowd (and here's hoping not the judges) since the seasoned road-warrior Augustus is well acquainted with battling on his opponent's ground.
The fight will be the main event for ESPN2's Tuesday Night Fights broadcast.
It's an important night for Burton, who's got everything to lose should he fail to get past the respected Augustus. A loss to a tough and skilled pro who nonetheless loses decisions to top-tier fighters on a regular basis would be devastating to Burton. Burton's last three fights have been televised on ESPN2's Tuesday and Friday Night Fights series, building him a nice profile, and he still clings to a pair of No.6 rankings in the IBF and WBA despite a loss in his last bout.
A prospect who was derailed by his first loss, a fifth round TKO to the always tough journeyman warrior Eleazar Contreras in late 2002, Burton turned things back around in 2003.
After beating up faded former champ Gabe Ruelas, he went into perennial contender Angel Manfredy's home state with a boost of purpose steeled by living in his trainer Sam Colona's gym in preparation for the July fight. Burton, a comfortable switch-hitter, turned to his lefty stance and fearlessly overwhelmed Manfredy, even pausing after one fierce flurry to howl with pride. He wore down his favoured foe and stopped him in the eighth, and his nationally televised ESPN2 victory shot him up the rankings.
But then Burton looked somewhat flat in his next appearance on the broadcast, winning a slim and debated split decision over rugged journeyman Francisco Lorenzo in December.
He appeared on-air again in a high-stakes bout with fellow fallen-from-grace contender Julio Diaz in March of this year. Both fighters had suffered setbacks, but were promised an IBF title shot if they proved they had the right stuff this time out. Unfortunately, Burton wasn't able to keep up with the fully recharged Diaz dynamo, and despite a gallant surge in the late rounds, was stopped in the 11th when Diaz overwhelmed him. The bout was well contested, and is no shameful loss considering how good Diaz looked, but Burton always seemed a punch behind and a touch less sharp. He didn't seem to have a 'plan B' to utilize his natural gifts when the going got tough.
Diaz went on to beat Javier Jauregi for the title in his next bout, and now Burton is back in the position of having to prove himself once more.
But all credit to the ambitious, 26 year old: he's got heart, he's got skills, he's got an exciting style that gets him TV slots, and he's taking on a consistent string of tough and valuable competition that'll season him and move him up the rankings, and Emanuel Augustus is no exception.
Also familiar to ESPN2 watchers, Augustus, 29, is a warrior with ability, and has been in multiple televised fan-friendly battles. But like Burton, he has also failed to capitalize his obvious attributes as of yet.
'A near-50/50 record fighter with attributes?' you might ask? Well if you're not familiar with the 135/140 division mainstay, then consider his second to last bout, a Friday Night Fights upset win over 140lbs contender Alex Trujillo this past April: Augustus waltzed into the bout with his usual back story - the well respected underdog who always gives his all, and often more than opponents bargain for, but whom usually comes up short - and schooled his favoured foe.
A confused and eventually mentally broken Trujillo, whose only loss was to then-IBF champ Jaregui, had no answers for Augustus' well-rounded old school style - all slips and ducks, lead and counters, bodywork and jabs. Augustus was a picture of comfort in the ring, so comfortable that the instinctively-entertaining boxer took to clowning around the whole bout, taunting Tujillo by sticking out his tongue or dancing about as he picked the Puerto Rican apart over 12 rounds.
Hell, even guest ESPN2 analyst James Toney, a notorious trash-talker who gives no quarter to his contemporaries (and possessor of some fine old school skills himself) heaped rare glowing praise upon Augustus.
But as usual, the ride was shorted lived. Augustus got frustrated in his next bout, a match with Tomas Barrientes last month, and when his differences with calls made by oft-controversial ref Lawrence Cole stirred up the passionate Augustus, it led to a disqualification in the seventh round.
He's put in great efforts against a legion of good fighters; Ivan Robinson, Diosbelys Hurtado, Antonio Diaz, Teddy Reid, John Molina, Leonard Dorin, Omar Weis... He was in the Fight of the Year of 2001 when he battled prime-era Mickey Ward, and gave Floyd Mayweather Jr. one of his toughest fights, if not the toughest, in late 2000. And he's amazingly still fresh and ready every time out; whether testing a new prospect or mixing it up as a contender's stepping stone.
He's tripped up many an undefeated prospect or fringe contender with a win or draw, and to be fair, he's been on the end of his share of dubious decisions, but he's never been able to take that extra step to a victory over a significant boxer.
So basically, if you're not the real deal, or not 100%, we'll find out when you step through the ropes with Augustus. Just ask Trujillo. Augustus may clown, he may slack here and there, he may take on 'sparring partner mentality' for rounds at a time, but he never rolls over, and he's always in shape. You can see it in the way he carries himself between the ropes - he's a natural born fighter. He's just not a natural born winner...
So Burton will be admirably taking another stern test tonight when he meets his fellow under-achiever Augustus (whose last name was curiously also Burton up until a few years ago, before his mother's marriage changed it).
Will the still-fresh Burton be able to notch another respectable win and get back in the short line for a title shot by regaining the intensity he showed against Manfredy? Or will the feisty near-spoiler Augustus pull another upset by showing a winner's mentality, and put himself another step closer to switching his label back to 'fringe contender' from his usual tag of 'tough-test-journeyman'?
Both men have good well-rounded punch arsenals, a lot of grit and will, put combos together, and lack one punch power, so we could see 10 hotly contested rounds of fast-paced intense action between two passionate boxers. But it's also a possibility that either or both men - known to fight below their level at times - will come in less than focused, and we'll see another chance to make good slip by the wayside.
July 6, 2004.