Granados looks to fulfill his and Ed Brown’s promise vs. Broner
Adrian Granados was the center of attention.
His gym-mate Joshua Greer held the phone in front of him, inches away from his face.
“We fighting A.B.!” yelled Greer. “We’re chillin’ until we fight and get them big bucks!”
The Chicago boxer was at the Garfield Park boxing gym, trying to text some of his friends and family about the news.
Granados had just gotten the call of a lifetime – the 27-year-old contender found out from his manager that he was officially going to fight Adrien Broner, the biggest fight in his often hard-luck career to date.
But his gym-mates had other ideas. Like so many other instances, they took to Facebook Live. They wanted to announce to the world of their friend’s shot.
Granados, for the most part, tried to smile his way through and tell people he paid his dues. It wasn’t until Ed Brown – Granados’ closest friend and the loudest of the bunch – got Granados hyped.
“AHHHHHH! It’s going down, baby!” Brown yelled as Granados was talking, causing Granados to laugh. “I’mma put my jewelry on and we’re going to wreck somebody.”
Every time Brown was on camera, or even when he was away from it, he made sure to let whoever watching know that he was with Granados.
“We’re going to be out there with our chains on and our rides out,” Brown yelled. “We’re going to f__k Adrien Broner up and we’re going to f__k up his entourage!
“I don’t even need to talk s__t, I’ve got my goons to do it for me,” Granados said, laughing.
“I’m talking s__t!” Brown said.
When he recalled the instance, Granados smiled and remembered how much fun it was. The lock screen of Granados’ phone is a picture of Brown smiling, too. Brown himself was a promising boxer with a 20-0 (16 knockouts) record.
“He was supposed to be a part of everything,” Granados said. “Right now, he’d be sparring with me. Right now, he’d be running with me. … It’s just unfortunate that we lost the heart of us.
“Ed was the heart of us. He’s been in this gym since he was four years old. This is all he knows and this is all we know. We come to the gym and it’s just not the same.
“Yeah, we keep the jokes and the happiness around, but Ed was the heart.”
On Dec. 4, Ed Brown was in his car with his cousin at 1 a.m. when he was shot in the head. Brown had just finished up a late-night training session on Chicago’s west side when a car drove by and fired. No arrest was made.
Brown died 15 hours later.
Preparing for the most notable fight of his career, a Showtime-televised showdown with Broner in the four-division beltholder’s hometown of Cincinnati on Saturday, Granados will do it without his first friend in boxing.
The two first met when Granados was 15 and Brown was 12. Brown went over to Granados and congratulated him for beating his cousin in an amateur bout. Granados said the two clicked and hung out at other boxing events, eventually training together too.
Naturally, Granados said he will be fighting in the memory of Brown.
“Me and Ed were frick and frack, ebony and ivory… We’d just play around all the time. We were kids,” Granados said. “It’s a shame what they did to my man, man. I miss him so much.”
Granados will try to get past Broner while dealing with the loss of his friend. To get to this point, though, Granados has built his career through years of instability, ranging from early losses, a promoter dispute and even wondering if he should retire.
Everything that Granados has been working towards will be put on the line against Broner.
“I feel like I have to be twice as great now just to fulfill the dreams that Ed was gonna do,” Granados said.
A life of sparring
Granados and Broner have shared the ring before.
In 2013, Granados spent eight weeks with Broner to help him prepare for Marcos Maidana. The two spent four weeks in Cincinnati and another four weeks in Colorado Springs, and it was during that time that Granados got acquainted with him. Granados said they’d spar rounds without breaks, sometimes going 12 minutes straight or even 36 minutes straight.
It was Granados’ job to imitate Maidana’s plodding style.
“He wanted me every day because I was giving him exactly what he needed,” Granados said. “I’m a very good imitator and so I imitated Maidana to a tee. And I was having success with him, too. So I mean I had a feeling that Maidana was going to beat him.”
There’s nothing but respect between the two. Broner, who also knew Brown, said he even reached out to Granados for Brown’s death. Broner confirmed that he still owes Brown $500 in gambling debt from the dice game.
“What’s said in the gym, I try to keep it in the gym,” Broner said, “but I can say that every time we sparred, he brought it. Every time. Like I always say, he’s a hell of a fighter.”
But what Granados most took from the session, he said, was that it was another instance of showing that he belonged with the sport’s top level of fighters. On the surface, Granados’ record of 18-4-2 (12 knockouts) suggests that he hasn’t been able to crack into that territory. Granados, though, has a history of sparring, and later fights, that encouraged him.
His first experience as a paid sparring partner began when he helped lightweight David Diaz prepare for his fight against Manny Pacquiao in 2008. Granados and Brown helped Diaz get ready and it was then when Brown and Granados grew even closer.
The two would laugh that they were actually getting money to spar and were encouraged by the success they had against Diaz, who was the WBC lightweight titleholder at the time.
“When I used them for sparring, they were babies, 16 to 17 years old,” said Diaz, a 1996 U.S. Olympian. “That just goes to show you the talent they had over there at Garfield Park, that I needed to use them for a championship fight.”
The first time Granados said he felt he belonged on a world-class level, however, was when he trained with Juan Manuel Marquez.
For almost two years, Granados lived in Mexico City training with Marquez and Nacho Beristain. He moved there initially because he was a reserve for the Mexican Olympian team for the 2008 Beijing Games, having just lost out on the spot to Jesse Vargas.
He stayed because of the experience. During that time, Granados lived on his own for the first time and shared an apartment with fellow fighters Abner Mares and Vincente Escobedo. Granados would arrive to the gym early and then finish up to watch veteran fighters like Marquez, Rafael Marquez, Jorge Arce and Jhonny Gonzalez go about their craft.
“I was literally just a sponge out there,” Granados said. “What I would do … I would soak in the way they trained, the way the threw their punches, the way they carried themselves. The way Juan Manuel is, that’s who I totally wanted to be.”
Granados learned and in 2009, he became the chief sparring partner for Marquez’s fight against Juan Diaz.
When Marquez returned to Mexico with the victory, Marquez held an ESPN photo-shoot with all his belts and Granados was enamored. It was then when Marquez looked at Granados and gave him a career’s worth of inspiration.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to win more than me one day,’” Granados said. “My heart melted. I was like ‘All right, let’s do this.’”
The Broke Team
George Hernandez, Granados’ trainer, is a man of principles. Since 1991, Hernandez has managed the Garfield Boxing Gym as an employee of the City of Chicago, which owns the gym as a public facility.
In that time, he has developed a recent motto that Granados and the rest of his gym go by.
“Our goal is to beat the best — That’s why we call ourselves ‘The Broke Team,’” Hernandez said. “We don’t have no money. We’re not supposed to be doing what we’re doing. But we’re trying to say to the world and anybody that will listen that we’re coming to fight.”
As he readily admits, Granados has paid his dues. From the beginning of his career, Granados was matched tough and suffered setbacks. The first came against a draw against then-gatekeeper Lanardo Tyner in just his sixth fight.
Two fights later, Granados was again overmatched with a majority decision loss to former U.S. amateur standout (and highly touted prospect) Frankie Gomez. He also had his share of toe-to-toe battles, notably against Jimmy Herrera and Antonio Canas.
“They were tough fights that really tested me immediately,” Granados said. “It tested me that I really had the heart. I liked it because by the time I started getting big fights, I was ready for them.”
They were the types of fights that Granados would make mistakes in. Diaz said he used to tell Granados to box more instead of just trying to slug it out. But it also helped in the long run.
“Mistakes make you better,” Hernandez said. “You know when to pick up the pace. You learn that the fight isn’t over until the final bell. You always have to be ready for these big fights because that’s what you’re training for.”
The skills started to sharpen and Granados had a turning point in 2013.
He took it to former welterweight titleholder Kermit Cintron on the undercard of a “Friday Night Fights,” despite having to settle for a disputed draw. He then followed it up with a come-from-behind knockout of unbeaten (15-0) prospect Mark Salser, a fight where Granados was put down twice. Granados said it was the fight that he was most proud of.
Granados ended his year with two wins and a draw, but right as it seemed like he was turning a corner, he also ended it with a contract dispute. Granados sued his former promoter 8 Count Productions for a release because of a separation between business partners Dominic Pesoli and Frank Mugnolo.
The legal process took nearly a year and when he returned, Granados went on to ponder if boxing was even for him.
Two fights — Felix Diaz and Brad Soloman — and two dubious decisions, Soloman especially, forced Granados to self evaluate whether he should retire.
“I had a good job with AT&T,” said Granados, who was an installation tech. “I was a smart guy. I had a college education. You know, I was like ‘Why am I going to keep getting let down?’ I was ready to let it go and finish my degree.”
But leading up to the Soloman fight, Granados was introduced to manager Andrew Zak. Zak, previously successful in real estate, had a small stable of boxers that he managed and was convinced Granados was the next fighter for him.
Even with the loss, Zak pleaded his case to Granados: the Soloman fight was a robbery and that they could move forward with tune-up fights before stepping up again. Still, Granados needed time to think about it.
“I talked to him on the phone several occasions,” Zak said. “I continued like everything was going to be fine because I wanted to let him know I had his back. I set up a fight and he came and fought.”
Zak delivered, setting up an unconventional fight against veteran Jesus Soto Karass. The fight, though, was under Big Knockout Boxing, a novelty that swapped the ring for a pit and two-minute rounds instead of three.
Granados emerged a victor and it led to another four fights in 2015, making it his busiest year since starting his career. He also ended it with the best victory of his career, an eighth-round knockout of highly regarded prospect Amir Imam.
Granados was floored in the first round, but his pressure wore Imam down.
“I’ve always had the discipline and the dedication,” Granados said. “It’s just more of a maturity now.”
The Garfield Park boxing gym saw a rise in kids come to the gym after Brown’s death. Hernandez said that parents recognized that “there’s a jewel” in Garfield Park where kids could stay safe.
Hernandez estimated the gym now totals anywhere from 50 to 100 people, most of them not registered because kids under 17 can train for free.
“I can’t turn them down because there’s no other gym within miles,” Hernandez said.
With so many eyes at the gym, Hernandez and Granados want to use the Broner fight as an opportunity.
An important distinction Hernandez also made is that the city’s violence only stems from a few select neighborhoods, including Garfield Park. He said getting attention for something else can change the perception of Chicago being a “murder capital.”
“We don’t want the kids that believe that we have to get away from Chicago to make Chicago better,” Hernandez said. “We have to make this city better. The only way we can do that is with us, Adrian leading the charge.”
“It really inspires me and motivates me on the days I don’t really want to get up and train,” Granados said.
The violence creates an impact each time. Brown is remembered by having his boxing gear hang from a rope above the gym’s ring. There’s grieving as well. After Brown’s death, Granados and Hernandez spent two weeks between California and Arizona to get away.
Brown’s death, though, is far from the only one. Since the Garfield Park gym opened, Hernandez has had 38 deaths among the fighters that he has trained. He commemorates each one by posting either their service pamphlet or news-clippings on the wall of his back office.
“The 38 ones that are gone … they all got killed differently,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know what the reasons are, but it hurts all the time. Ed is special because he was with me from when he was six years old.
“It’s crazy how boxing is because you have to keep going,” he added. “But you develop a bond that is unbreakable.”
Granados, generally, has been able to avoid violence away from boxing. The only exception deals with the scar on his nose.
Shortly after he returned from Mexico in 2010, Granados was out one night walking back to his car with some friends on Chicago’s north side. Gang members confronted the group and yelled at Granados to ask what gang he was apart of. Granados, albeit foolishly, chose to confront the gang members only for him to be struck with a bottle across his face.
The members rushed to attack his friends, who were beaten with bats and with one friend even stabbed in the neck. When the cops came, Granados was the one arrested as he had been beating up one of his attackers. Charges were later dropped.
The scar still remains.
“I went into a depression and I was nervous to talk to somebody or see somebody,” said Granados, who needed nine stitches. “I was shy about my nose. I still am. I hate the scar.”
Granados credited two areas for staying safe and leading a focused life, his family and his high school. Originally from Cicero, Granados attended the private catholic St. Joseph High School in Westchester, which was nearly eight miles away. While there, Granados was taught how to box from a teacher, Br. Peter Hannon.
He also remains very close with his family of four. Granados’ younger brother, Vidal, texts him if he hears Granados is at places he shouldn’t be, like a club out late. His parents also paid his way through St. Joseph, with his mother even driving or picking him up from school.
“I’m very grateful for where I’m at,” Granados said.
And so, Granados will keep fighting, just as Brown did before his death.
At Mount Sinai hospital, Granados was one of three people besides Brown’s family who got to see Brown privately on life support. Granados pleaded for him to fight like it was the championship rounds and Brown tapped Granados’ hand, leading Granados to believe that Brown could hear him.
Granados said it was the saddest thing he had ever had to deal with, but said he’s at peace knowing Brown knew he was there.
“On my way out, I started screaming, ‘And still undefeated… ‘Bad Boy’ Ed Brown!” Granados said. “‘Fly boy, get money!’ I was still playing with him.”
Granados has dreams to accomplish. He wants to remain an example for his community, but also be able to help his parents retire earlier than planned. Against Broner, Granados will make a career-high $250,000, far surpassing his previous career-high of $50,000.
And when he’s done with boxing, he wants the option of having a home away from Chicago. Granados will try to build a legacy and a life that Brown never got to accomplish.
“I plan on getting out of here eventually,” Granados said. “Not even because I want to – just because I have to. If I win this fight and become a big sensation out of Chicago, I want to make sure I’m safe and live a long life.”
Matthew Paras is a sports journalist from Chicago. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him at @Matthew_Paras on Twitter.