The gym is freezing at 10 a.m. and Ed Latimore starts working on a speed bag to get warm. It’s his daily routine, as it is for a lot of fighters. Get up, hit the gym and work your ass off to get ready for your next fight.
For a lot of young men, boxing is a way out. A way out of poverty. A way off the streets. A way to make something of themselves even if that means taking hundreds of punches en route to a better of life. In some cases, it’s the only shot they have and they try to make the most of it.
In a lot of ways, Latimore is one of those guys. He grew up in the projects of the Hill District and then Northview Heights, on the city’s North Side. He grew up facing poverty and the perils of the streets, but those challenges were just geographic.
In truth, Ed “Black Magic” Latimore doesn’t have to be here today. A brilliant mind, he could be taking it easy, sitting in a warm physics classroom, feeding his head with knowledge that will bring him a career guaranteed to win him success without ever taking a punch.
But he wants to be here. With a professional record of 13-1, he wants to be the heavyweight champion of the world. But he also wants that other life, so he’s going after that too, studying electrical engineering and physics at Duquesne University. He’s also a writer who plans to release his second book next year and has built up a dedicated online following as something of a self-help, self-actualization guru. The 31-year-old has turned his experiences into lessons to help people help themselves.
Boxing is part of who Latimore is, but it’s not only who he is. That’s not to say he’s taking the sport whimsically. He’s as serious about his goal to become the heavyweight champ as he is about his educational goals and his writing. His life is about having experiences, learning from them in an effort to create a life that he can one day look back on with reverence and not regret. He’s currently taking a year off from school, paid for with a scholarship and the GI Bill from his time in the Pennsylvania National Guard, to concentrate on boxing. At some point he plans to take time off from boxing to concentrate on school.
“Let’s take the romantic route for a minute,” he breathlessly muses as he halts a heavy-bag session. “In 30 years, I’ll be 61 and hopefully chillin’ somewhere with some great wine and a beautiful view. In that moment, do I want to look back and tell people stories about this great report I wrote and how I wish I’d had more time behind the desk? Or do I want to talk about the years I spent fighting in pursuit of a heavyweight championship?
“Now, that said, I want that other life too and I’m working toward that at the same time. But when I’m done with boxing, I’m done. You’ll never see me or hear from me again. Unless I win the heavyweight title, you’ll never even know I existed in this sport. But for now, I’m here in the moment; I’m having fun; I’m making money and I’m planning for the future. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Latimore spent the first nine years of his life living in the Hill District. Then, his family was relocated to the notorious Northview Heights housing project. He tried to spend most of his time indoors, playing games, reading scores of books and staying away from the trouble. However, like a lot of parents, his mom thought he should be outside more.
“Looking back on it,” Latimore says, “I was safer in the house and wish I was inside more. It was a rough place to be and there were fights and other things, but I was able to avoid the wrong path that so many in that neighborhood followed for two big reasons.
“First, my father was in my life, and secondly, my education kept me away from a lot of the nonsense that goes on.”
While his dad lived in Philadelphia, Latimore says he was always present. He stressed reading and education and, most importantly, he traveled with Latimore and his sister. “One of the best things my dad ever did was show us that there’s a whole world out there beyond your neighborhood,” Latimore says.
In school, Latimore excelled. He was put into the gifted program of the Pittsburgh Public School District and in high school was in the magnet program and got the opportunity to go to Schenley High School. He would get up early and make the hour-long bus trip to school. But, he says, it was worth it. “When I went to Schenley, I got to see and experience other socio-economic classes. I got to see how other people lived and what they experienced,” he says. “That had a huge impact on my life.”
In high school, Latimore played sports and intentionally started spending more time away from the projects. He says his mother encouraged him and his sister to read and to take care of themselves by always looking good. “My mother taught us to iron,” Latimore says. “How many kids do you know get up every day and iron their clothes?” However, he says, home life could be rough simply because of the circumstances the family was in. “By high school,” he says, “I spent 90 to 95 percent of my day with my friends, away from home.”
After high school, Latimore started college but says he wasn’t ready for school and dropped out. Between the ages of 18 and 22, he says, he was in a relationship that was the center of his life. When that ended, he went looking for something else.
“I always wanted to try boxing, so I decided to see what I could do and where it could take me,” he says. “Turns out I was pretty good.”
Latimore began boxing as an amateur and soon found sponsorships. In 2011 he won the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves title and the National Police Athletic League title. He won the national event by beating Dominic Breazeale, who would go on to the 2012 London Olympics. He also holds an amateur victory over former International Boxing Federation World Champion Charles Martin. He was then given a chance to train in Los Angeles, where a fighter can fight more frequently.
Also at that time, Latimore started drinking more frequently. “I’d work hard all week and here comes Friday and I’d go out and drink hard and party. Unfortunately it took a near-death experience — he was a pedestrian and was nearly struck by an errant vehicle — to make him realize that life was too short to waste any part of it.
“I realized that I wasted a lot of my twenties,” Latimore says now.
He stopped drinking and returned to Pittsburgh and returned to World Class Boxing Gym, in Ambridge, to be trained and managed by Tom and Mark Yankello, respectively. He was with the brothers when he won the National PAL title. Since then,, he’s amassed that 13-1 record with seven knockouts and for a time was promoted by Roc Nation Sports, the marketing company of rapper Jay-Z.
On Saturday, he will return to action at a card at the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia to get his quest for the world title back on track. It’s his first fight since a devastating first-round TKO loss on national television in September to undefeated Trey Lippe Morrison, the son of the late Tommy Morrison, a controversial figure and two-time heavyweight champion who left boxing when he was diagnosed with HIV. A win in that fight on Showtime would have sent Latimore’s career on an even higher trajectory.
Morrison dropped Latimore twice in the first round and, according to media reports, was on the verge of a third when the referee stopped the fight with 41 seconds left in the first round. Latimore says he was shocked and embarrassed. In the weeks following he lost his deal with Roc Sports because of his performance. But the self-pity didn’t last long.
Like all experiences in his life, Latimore used the loss as a learning experience. He broke it down, he learned from it. Yes, he learned mechanically what he was doing wrong in the ring, but he also learned how to accept and deal with a stinging defeat.
The morning after the fight, Latimore went to breakfast at the hotel. As he ate, he watched television and the news wasn’t pleasant. Two unarmed black men had been killed by police in the past week; dozens were killed in airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, and on the day of his fight, a gunman in Seattle killed several people in a rampage at a mall.
“As I’m watching this, I’m like, ‘I’m feeling sorry for myself because I lost a fight?’ There are people out there with real problems,” Latimore says now. “When I lived in Los Angeles, [MMA fighter] Randy Couture came to the gym and he told us, ‘If losing a fight is the worst thing that ever happens to you, then you’ve lived a pretty good life.’ I never forgot that, and while I understood it intellectually, in that moment I learned it viscerally.
“You have to learn from everything that happens to you or else you’re just wasting time.”