By Phil Doherty
Some of the nicest guys you meet in boxing get paid to render other guys unconscious. It’s just a simple fact. The punishment two boxers deal each other during a bout would be criminal vice outside the ring in the eyes of the law. Indeed, if you’ve ever seen a brawl break out in the stands during a professional boxing event, you know those guys go to jail. This strange duality rears its head frequently the more boxers you get to know. However, once you accept the contradiction and really get to understand the motivations of these men, you start to appreciate their virtues much more. Recently Fightnews sat down with such a fighter. He is Haitian-American light heavyweight Azea Augustama (9-0, 6 KOs). Augustama represented Haiti in the 2008 Olympics and won the 2008 Golden Gloves championships at 178 lbs. Augustama and manager Victor Wainstein graciously answered the following questions…
Azea, you have two brothers who also fight. You are the middle in age of the three. All three of you worked with your father in construction, are you still doing that?
AA: Actually no, before the Olympic trials in 2008, the economy sank. Partly from that and partly with me travelling to compete all the time, the company laid me and my older brother Emmanuel off. We went to another construction company ,where we were knocking it out as far as the technical stuff. But again due to the downturn, we got moved to doing more of the “dirty work”. After that, they brought in people who would do it cheaper so you know it was rough, real rough. Fortunately, with the press I was getting at the time in preparation for the Olympics, people started donating to help us out with expenses, so we were very fortunate.
You’ve sparred with some of the big names in the sport: Hopkins, Pascal, Arthur Abraham…
VW: Tavoris Cloud
That’s right. Jermain Taylor too?
AA: Jermain Taylor. I actually sparred with him for two years. At first in preparation for the Olympic trials, he was like this much higher in terms of skill. (Augustama raises one hand about 6 inches higher than the other.) Then I caught up with him about 4 months later and I thought: “Hey, I’m doing ok” and now it’s 3 years later and I’m moving up. (By contrast, Taylor’s future is in question after suffering 3 KO losses in his last 5 bouts.)
Now, you have your next fight at the Seminole Hard Rock on December 7th against cruiserweight Epifanio Mendoza. This is a guy with 40 fights, but also a guy who’s lost 4 of his last 6.
VW: At cruiserweight.
Right, at cruiserweight. (Mendoza started his career at junior middleweight in 1999). How do you see the fight playing out?
AA: Well, he’s another guy I have sparred (laughing). This was back in 2002, maybe when he was more in his prime. But my layout for this fight is speed, speed, speed. He’s had some recent losses, but it’s been against way bigger guys. So I can’t go in there with the mentality like oh , he’s a bigger guy and I’m coming up from light heavyweight. I mean, my last fight my opponent last minute was like…
That’s right, against Reggie Peña. He was 15 pounds overweight, right?
AA: Yeah, even at 180 I have to make an adjustment with Mendoza. Which is even more why speed, speed, speed. I will slowly break him down with speed.
You’ve fought at both light heavyweight and cruiserweight. Which weight suits you best as far as your style?
AA: Light heavy of course. Whenever I’ve fought at cruiserweight, it was just to make sure the fight happened. Even in the amateurs, I fought Mike Marrone in the amateurs. Just to get a fight.
At light heavy?
AA: No, at like 215 lbs. I went in there with construction boots on! (chuckles) He’d beaten my brother Eli in the amateurs so it was a little bit of redemption for me when I beat him. So whenever I fought heavier, it was just to stay active and compete.
Victor, what is the short and longer term plan for Azea? There are a lot of names floating around at cruiserweight such as Nicholas Iannuzzi and Sullivan Barrera who both fight locally.
VW: We kinda took this fight like the Peña fight. That fight had a contract weight for light heavyweight. What happened was the Thursday before the weigh-in; we got a call from the promoters indicating that Peña was 200 lbs. What do we wanna do? Obviously, we wanted Azea to fight. We basically told them:”look, can he lose 10 lbs by Monday? Can he get down to 190 and we’ll still go on with the fight.” Azea, just to let you know when we got that phone call, was 173 lbs. He had to gradually put on weight and came in at like 183 lbs, whatever it was. With this fight with Mendoza, we wanted it to be at 175. Again the promoters said you know he’s (Mendoza) been heavy his last couple of fights so we got them down to 180. And we just think it’s a good fight at the right time, so we’re taking it. But just to be clear, we have no intention of campaigning at cruiserweight.
VW: To answer the first part of your question, I think we’re a few fights away from being ready. There’s a lot of good young champions: Pascal, Cloud, Shumenov. I think there are a lot of good young guys in the division: Despaigne, Mark Tucker. I think what’s going to happen with the Super Six tournament is these guys at 168 are gonna come up to 175. Kessler’s big, Abraham’s big, Lucian Bute. I think the light heavyweight division’s going to be in about 2 years what the junior welterweight division is right now. Or what welterweight was a couple of years ago and I think Azea is going to be right there. I think we’re maybe 3 to 5 more fights from taking on a ShoBox or ESPN2 main event. But we would want to do it at 175.
Azea, you’ve done some mixed martial arts fighting in the past. Fans of both boxing and MMA say theirs is the tougher sport. What would you say to that debate?
AA: Well, for years I’ve been talking to friends, to people who ask who knew I’d done MMA. I haven’t competed at the highest level of that sport where it is right now. But at the level I did compete, I fought a few guys who were supposed to be seasoned. Not all boxers can compete in MMA, I mean James Toney of course, was well past his prime. I mean his upper body movement was good with the shoulder roll and everything, but his legs don’t really move. So, in MMA you can take him to the ground like this. Now, you take a Mayweather, maybe a Manny Pacquiao; guys who are very fast-footed and can strike on a dime, they’ll eat ‘em up because they’re not used to that in MMA. When I fought MMA, guys tried to shoot in on me and just from having quick feet my takedown defense was awesome. When they would shoot in, I’d take 5 steps back, move to the side and I could lean on top of them.
It seems that in MMA, what they call “striking” is more a pretext to try to take you down with the more roundhouse punching as opposed to the straighter punches in boxing. Is that what you experienced when these guys would try to jab you or throw a right cross? Did you have all day to see it coming?
AA: Yeah, all year! (laughs). They would just come at you so slow. The speed level is way different as far as striking.
VW: I just want to add something too. I think in Azea’s particular situation, the fights he did in MMA really help him. You’ll notice in the Peña fight and the fight we did on Roy Jones’s card in August against tough veteran William Gill. The thing I like about Azea is it’s very hard to push him around the ring and I think it comes from the MMA. He knows how to, as he said, when a guy comes in, he knows how to put his body weight on him, lean on him and step back. A lot of the things you learn in MMA help him in boxing. He’s very difficult to hit, his reflexes and his ability to slip punches, I believe a lot of it comes from the MMA experience. I think if anyone thinks they can push him around the ring, I think they’ve got another thing coming.
Recently, we’ve seen a number of top fighters emerge from Haiti or at least of Haitian descent like Alcine, Berto, Pascal and yourself obviously. Haiti is not normally known as an island boxing powerhouse like Puerto Rico and Cuba. What do you think is contributing to that?
AA: Well, you know when it comes to natural athletic ability, Haitians of course are a very athletic people but as far as having the proper teaching facilities to develop good boxers or any type of athletics over there, they just don’t have the resources. So one of my dreams is to one day to bring boxing to Haiti. To start them off as young amateurs, and raise ‘em up. I think in that instance you will see more and more great Haitian champions. As of right now, we don’t have too much boxing in Haiti. Where you do see that transcended is usually those who’ve left Haiti at a young age and got the experience elsewhere.
Like Quebec and South Florida?
What do you like to do outside of boxing?
AA: Well, you know I love to play sports, all kinds of sports.
That’s right, you like to play soccer right?
AA: No, you know when I said I liked to play football in a previous interview, I meant American football. (chuckles) Actually my first thing when I came over was to try to play American football. In the offseason, I said well let me just try boxing and the rest is history of course, but I love football, basketball. I’m a competitive guy, even if it’s online football; I’m competitive in that as well. I’m an old-fashioned young guy I would say. I don’t like going out or hanging out. I never did, even at 16, 17 and 18 going out or chasing the ladies. It never intrigued me. I loved boxing, I watched boxing. I lived boxing.
VW: He’s also a tremendous father, if I can just say so.
How many children do you have?
AA: One. One and a half, actually (Azea gestures an arc from his belly)
Oh, you’ve got one on the way? Congratulations!
AA: Thank you.
Finally, Azea what would you like to tell your fans?
AA: Well, you know I have a lot of boundaries to cross. I get hungrier with every fight, which gets me that much closer to letting my fans see me on the big stage. I really feel I have the skills and the desire to one day be considered as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world.
Gentlemen, we really appreciate you taking the time out for us today, thank you so much.
AA/VW: Thank you.