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The Tragic Death of Boxing’s Next Big Thing

Instead of becoming world champion, Ed “Bad Boy” Brown is yet another reminder of how desperate the violence in Chicago has become

Ed “Bad Boy” Brown lived an impossible life—the first impossibility being that he somehow made it to the age of 25. “They was trying to call me ‘Bulletproof’ ’cause I been shot so many times and those bullets can’t stop me,” Brown, boxing’s “next big thing” told me in early November, a few days before the most important fight of his career. Even just four weeks ago, it was more gallows humor than tragedy — if only because those bullets had yet to stop him. Not that they hadn’t come close on at least one occasion. “It was a drive-by on my block,” he explained. “I got caught in the crossfire. It hit me in the neck. The doctors said I would have died if I wasn’t in such good shape from boxing.”

This was just before the 2012 Olympic Trials, which established Brown’s career arc: After every pivotal match in his career, he was shot — a sad byproduct of living on the West Side of Chicago, where gun violence, bloodshed and death are everyday occurrences. By Brown’s count, he’d been shot nearly 10 times in all.

The narrative, however, was supposed to turn after Brown’s November fight against former world-ranked contender Albert Mensah of Ghana. As I wrote back then, “Generally speaking, a fighter’s 20th career win is pivotal [Brown was 19–0 with 16 knockouts at the time] — the point at which they shift from a prospect to a world-title contender. For Brown, it likely means his first world ranking as well.”

The Fighter Who Survived 8 Shootings to Become Boxing’s Next Big Thing

The fight wasn’t easy. Mensah is known for his iron chin and crafty defense, and the fear was that Mensah would outclass Brown because he represented a steep rise in competition. Some of that showed early when Brown fought tentatively. But as the rounds progressed, Bad Boy gained more and more control, and by the end of the fight, he exploded with overhand rights rocking Mensah across the ring. So while he didn’t knock Mensah out, he won convincingly.

Per usual, Brown went right back to the West Side of Chicago at the Garfield Park Fieldhouse to train for his next big fight. This one would be in January and air on Showtime. Another win would likely get him signed with a major promoter and set him on a path for a world title shot and hopefully a fight with welterweight kingpin Floyd Mayweather. “They all rich out there in Vegas,” Brown said about Mayweather’s “Money Team” when we spoke. “Well, we the Broke Team on the West Side of Chicago. We coming from nothing, but we gonna make it.”

But just as Brown found himself on the verge of escaping the violence of his hometown, its bloodshed swallowed him up once more. Early Saturday morning, he was sitting in a parked car with his younger sister, just two blocks from his childhood home and a block from the Garfield Park Fieldhouse. At roughly 1:10 a.m., another car pulled up next to them and opened fire. The bullets struck Brown and and his sister multiple times. It was immediately clear that the gallows humor that had greeted the other Brown shootings had finally been overcome by tragedy. “Ed need your prayers,” George Hernandez, Brown’s trainer and a father figure, wrote on Facebook. “I pray for a miracle.”

The outpouring of requested prayers and support via social media Saturday was staggering. As were the number of well-wishers who came to visit Brown at the hospital. “You’re in the 10nth round right now, keep sticking and moving,” his close friend and sparring partner Adrian Granados told his comatose friend while sitting beside him at the hospital.

His injuries, however, were too severe. And early Sunday evening, Ed “Bad Boy” Brown died. He is survived by a 3-year-old daughter, whose name he had tattooed on his wrist the day before the shooting. “My baby girl, I love her so much,” Brown said back in November. “I want to give her a nice childhood, not like the one I had to go through.” (Brown lost his mother in the E2 Nightclub tragedy when he was just 12, while his father spent most of Brown’s childhood in prison.)

His death, of course, is full of unspeakable sadness — a twentysomething prodigy we should be discussing in a totally different context. But instead, he is perhaps the most public face of the daily tragedy that’s taking place across the West and South sides of Chicago. Police haven’t released a motive for the attack and do not have any suspects in custody, but it’s hard not to think that Brown’s ever-increasing fame — like that of his friend King Louie, the rapper who was shot in the head a year ago on the South Side — didn’t have something to do with his murder. The warfare in Chicago is so bloody and so ferocious that rival factions will go after a neighborhood’s most successful native sons in order to inflict the most psychological pain possible on those who live there.

“Chicago is a big ol’ hatin’ city,” Brown told me when I last spoke with him. “Everybody in competition. Everybody want to be that guy that got it all. You got something going, somebody going to hate on you.”

He added, “I’ll love Chicago till the day I die. But all I can tell the kids is, get what you can and get out. Get yours and get up outta here, ’cause people gonna hate on you, gonna shoot at you and gonna kill you.”

Unfortunately, he couldn’t have been more right.