“That is what comes of knowing the worst—one is left alone with the worst and it’s like peace.”
—Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
February 1981. Edith Jeanette, only fourteen years old, abandoned her one-month-old son. He can’t remember that, thankfully.
The fallout of that abandonment, though, being passed back and forth between relatives unwantedly, a burden endured just long enough to be convinced to move—he remembers that. “I was beaten every day and they mistreated me,” he remembers. “All they wanted me to do was work and I just wanted to be a kid.” He got “sick of being beaten,” and so nine-year-old Edison Miranda ran away.
The streets of Buenaventura accepted him, Barranquilla’s did too—they turned away no one, sustained as they were by broken humanity. Miranda found work sweeping floors, he slept in parks, alone, or in the company of his fellow throwaways, children with no homes, or worse, homes less welcoming than the street. He would look up at the stars with tears in his eyes and pray God would rescue him.
Maybe mom will take me back? the little boy thought. Yes, of course! He need only find her. It was in and out of one flatbed after another then, as Miranda hitchhiked hundreds of miles across southern Colombia looking for the mother who abandoned him almost a decade before. Impossibly, Miranda found his uncle on a construction site. According to Miranda’s former manager, Steve Benbasat, the uncle asked Miranda to verify his identity via a birthmark on the boy’s leg. Miranda pulled up his shorts. There it was.
Now twenty-three, and married to a successful man, Edith Jeanette was finally in a position to care for her son. Her husband, however, wanted nothing to do with Miranda. “Make a choice: It is either me or your son,” he told his wife. Miranda overheard this conversation. He heard his mother’s answer too.
The marriage must have been a happy one.
Back to the streets, Miranda earned a meager living however he could. The drug business, rampant in Colombia at the time, and appallingly hard on children, could have claimed him. He might have become one of the thousands of child traqueteros, a bodyguard, mule, lookout, even a sicario, gunning down rivals from the back of a motorcycle. He could’ve been a junkie. “The people that were around me, and I had friends that were twenty-five, thirty, that I was always with . . . but they were always doing drugs and drinking,” Miranda told Boxing Talk. These same people looked out for Miranda, telling him, “We want to try to stop and we can’t stop it because it’s part of our body but we don’t want you involved.”
So Miranda swerved the drugs and the drug game. He harvested yucca and plantain, worked construction for a while; at fourteen he took a job slaughtering cattle. But he still lived on the street, still used a discarded tarp as a blanket, still ate what he could find: scraps in dumpsters, lizards he could catch, donations from the market. Sometimes he’d make fires to roast the crushed casualties of traffic that littered the roadside.
Life was hard. Too hard. “There were times when I was very down,” Miranda told Saddo Boxing in 2008, “so bad that I wanted to die and asked God to take me away.” Despairing, Miranda had a vision. “One night, I dreamed I was a boxer,” he told Boxing Scene. “Even though I never boxed before, had never seen a ring or gloves I had a vision. And after that, I knew the way out for me was boxing.”
The next day, Miranda was sitting on a corner with some friends. A stranger walked by, a retired professional boxer. He caught sight of Miranda, who already had a body that looked sculpted out of onyx, and asked, “Hey kid, you want to be a boxer? I’ll take you to a trainer if you want to be a boxer.” The trainer was Jorge Garcia Beltran; he’d had a hand in producing many of Colombia’s champions. Garcia told Miranda, “In you I see something. You gotta work hard for it, but you’re gonna be a champion.” And with that, the dream moved closer to reality.
Had Miranda really never learned of boxing before that dream? Boxing is a popular sport in Colombia, a country known for producing concussive punchers. And as one of the few avenues of escape for children in slums across the globe, it’s hard to believe Miranda didn’t shuffle past a gym as he scraped and scavenged under the Colombian sun. Perhaps what matters more than the truth—provided it deviates from the above story—is the version Miranda remembers. What matters is the magic, the psychological sleight of hand that turned a dream to a vision and gave Miranda a purpose.
“I am a fearless boxer because of a gift from God. This is what I was supposed to be.”
You remember his stoppage of Howard Eastman, the counter right hand that stiffened “The Battersea Bomber” like a tetanus victim. Bernard Hopkins couldn’t stop Eastman, neither could Arthur Abraham. Miranda banged him out in seven rounds. Willie Gibbs fared worse. Miranda hit him so hard Gibb’s corner had to bend the fighter’s legs for him so he could take his stool after being knocked out in the first round. There was Miranda’s knockout of David Banks on Friday Night Fights, too. Remember the way Banks lay hung up in the ropes like a pair of sneakers in a telephone line? One right hand did that.
Miranda was a puncher, almost spitefully so. “I respect no one in the ring. That’s how I feel whoever I fight,” he told Boxing Scene. He didn’t celebrate his knockouts, he reveled in them; you half expected him to collect a token from each battered opponent, maybe transfer a drop of blood from that felled man to a slide and hide it in his air conditioner. Where a fighter like Ricardo Mayorga slandered opponents with a nod and wink to the theatrics of fabricated animosity, Miranda stuck his verbal jabs and crosses without a hint of irony. Opponents were nothing to him.
His first chance at the title came against IBF champion, Arthur Abraham. You remember that fight too, the uppercut Miranda landed in the fourth round that broke Abraham’s jaw in two places. Abraham looked like he’d been kicked in the mouth by a horse. What followed referee Randy Neumann remembers as “the most bizarre fight I’ve been involved with.” Neumann told veteran boxing writer George Kimball, “I’ve never been in a position where I would have had to overrule the ringside physician to stop a fight. The German doctor wanted the fight to continue, and he was even up there in the corner, in a T-shirt, attending to Abraham between rounds.” Miranda became unhinged. He lost five points over the remaining rounds for a variety of fouls. Abraham lost a liter of blood, was carried from the ring on a stretcher but left with his title. Given the scores, he’d have won even without the point deductions.
Miranda refused to accept the outcome of the fight, believing he deserved to win by fifth-round TKO. He thought the point deductions were bogus too. “There were many low blows that should not have been called,” he told Boxing 247. And what of the headbutt that cost Miranda two points in the fifth? “I was trying to get out of his clinching and was very frustrated.” A world-class fighter shouldn’t go seven rounds with an opponent whose jaw is broken in two places. But Miranda was never world-class. Abraham proved it in the rematch, wiping Miranda out in four rounds.
The jaguar is a formidable animal hunter, one who frequently preys on animals larger than itself, one who makes predators into prey. But whenever “Pantera” stepped up in class he was beaten. In May of 2007, Kelly Pavlik was all that stood between Miranda and middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Pavlik took Miranda apart, slugging him into submission in the seventh.
The Abraham and Pavlik beatings made an opponent of Miranda. If you wanted to know whether your fighter could take a punch, you called Miranda knowing that power was the only threat he promised. Even that threat was mitigated by the chins of championship-caliber fighters and Miranda’s weight gain. Andre Ward once called Miranda “the biggest puncher I ever faced,” but he easily dismantled the limited and defensively lax fighter. Miranda’s last chance at a world title came against IBF super-middleweight champion, Lucian Bute, in 2010. Bute humiliated Miranda, ruining him with an uppercut just as Miranda finished mocking a Bute punch.
He retired in 2014, with a record of 36-10 with thirty-one knockouts, never fulfilling the hype that announced his arrival on American airwaves. That isn’t quite an indictment of Miranda given the hyperbole employed by network carnival barkers. But even his former manager George Wantman sees Miranda as a waste of talent “[who] could have made a lot of money if he was able to control his weight.” Wantman said that while fighting at middleweight Miranda would balloon up to 225 pounds between fights, and fighting in heavier divisions only encouraged him to gain more weight between fights. Miranda himself admits he struggled with the scale and blames his loss to Pavlik on having to lose forty-seven pounds in six weeks. It isn’t hard to understand how a fighter who ate roadkill as a child suffered from poor discipline at the dinner table. But that is just one more excuse in the hardest game.
Discussing Miranda’s childhood, his friend and translator Rudy Vargas noted that “not everyone is brought up in the suburbs or even in the projects, some of us are brought up even harder than that.” Miranda? He was brought up even harder than that. His heartbreaking backstory remains the most remarkable thing about him. But the currency of that story devalued when his ring exploits failed to fully romanticize it. Miranda was considered an inspiration until it was obvious he wasn’t fighter enough to complete the fairy tale. When he stopped winning he stopped being worthy of attention. Perhaps he should’ve been more sporting, maybe more willing to exploit his past hardships for sympathy and attention. He’d never do that. Asked about his childhood, Miranda said “It’s only other people that bring it up and if they didn’t bring it up, I’d never even think of it. For me, I don’t want to think about that. I want to think about the present and the future.”
Who can blame him? There is vulnerability in sharing your story. A traumatic childhood can leave you intolerant even of others’ pain because you’ve denied your own for so long. What good was vulnerability? When had it ever worked for him before? Miranda was hardened by those long days and longer nights in Colombia, perhaps in more ways than he allows himself to admit. But in the ring, haywired by the fists of a better man, that hard exterior fell away. Returned to a state of crisis, Miranda simply looked hurt, a man in need of protection as much as an enswell.
That childhood dream was prophetic though: boxing was Miranda’s way out. It took from the streets of Colombia to Puerto Rico, the United States, England, Germany, Canada. It gave him a bed, proper food, a roof over his head.
And when it left him, his life turned dark once more.
Less than five months after his last fight, Miranda was one of a group of twenty-nine people charged by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to import and possess controlled substances and money laundering. According to Angel Melendez, the head of ICE in Puerto Rico, Miranda participated in a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking operation led by Carlos Segura Galvis (alias “Torero”). One of the four people ICE agents failed to locate when they executed warrants for arrest in January 2015, Miranda soon surrendered and was released on bail. But he was arrested in Florida in December 2017 after failing to comply with his bail conditions and sent to Butner Correctional Facility in North Carolina. As of January 2019, Miranda was negotiating a plea deal.
The drug game seems to have claimed him in the end.
“I just want to be the kind of champion and the kind of person that helps others. I want to help children that were like me; homeless, with nowhere else to go. True champions are role models and that’s what I strive to be.” Did Edison Miranda accomplish any of that? When he lays down at night now, what do his dreams tell him?