Chris Fitzpatrick knows he could be dead.
He knows how close he came in the six years he ran the streets of Cleveland, gang-banging, selling and smoking dope. He knows especially how close he came in the two weeks before he moved to Columbia in August 2008.
How close? As close as facing someone with a knife instead of fists in a street fight; as close as better aim by the person who took shots at him. As close as a nervous trigger finger on the men who robbed him at gunpoint - twice - before he fled Cleveland.
"Those last two weeks," the 22-year-old said quietly, "were the worst of my life."
These days, things are better.
Tonight at the Radisson Conference Center, Fitzpatrick, a soft-spoken, deathly pale but chiseled 180-pound middleweight whose ring name is "The Irish Ghost," faces Adrian Redmond of Hickory, N.C., in one of a scheduled 15 fights - five boxing bouts, 10 mixed martial arts contests - promoted by Chapin-based Palmetto Boxing.
Redmond is 6-4 as a professional; Fitzpatrick is 7-0, after a 111-17 amateur record before he turned pro at 19. He expects to win - and this time, he expects it to count.
Not like his second pro fight, in Johnstown, Pa., on June 28, 2008. Fitzpatrick defeated Anthony Pietrantonio, a fighter with a 5-0 record. After the bout, Fitzpatrick stepped out of the ring and was drug-tested.
He failed - no surprise there.
"I knew I was busted when they handed me the cup," he said recently at A.G. Jackson Wellness Center on Atlas Road, where he often trains. "They raised my hand, announced me as the winner. Two weeks later, they ruled it no contest."
Fitzpatrick began boxing at age 8 while living in Las Vegas. His grandfather, Fred Enburg, a man from Joplin, Mo., who "didn't speak too much" - like grandfather, like grandson - taught the youngster how to fight in the gym at his house, where Fitzpatrick would watch the older man pound a heavy bag.
"I won about every fight" from the start, he said, fighting in Silver Gloves, Golden Gloves, state and regional tournaments in Nevada, Arizona, California. His parents moved to Cleveland when he was 15, and Fitzpatrick boxed - and won - in Ohio, Michigan and New York.
Outside the ring, though, "I was into some bad stuff," he said. Some coaches smoked marijuana, and he did, too. He quit school, ran the streets, on a dead-end path.
One day, he says, he defended a girl from her boyfriend.
"After that," Fitzpatrick said, "I needed to get out of Cleveland."
Andrew Stokes, who is promoting Fitzpatrick's fight, shook his head. "White kid, on the streets in that city?" said Stokes, who is black. "He had a bulls-eye on his back."
His mother, Rachel, who had moved to Columbia after her divorce, pleaded with him to join her.
"I wanted to change my life," Fitzpatrick said. His sister's father-in-law came to Cleveland, picked him up and brought him to Columbia.
Talk about culture shock: "At first, I wanted to go back every day," he said.
But safety grows on people. Fitzpatrick found an apartment in Harbison, bought a 1996 Trans Am with 133,000 miles, began a new life.
"Now," he said, "I love it here. There's no 'drama.' I can live in peace here."
If your definition of "peace" is inside a ring, pounding opponents, that is.
Stokes, who with Sean Fink runs Palmetto Boxing out of White Rock Gym in Chapin, agreed to take on Fitzpatrick.
"But I told him, 'I don't want excuses. It's time to grow up, be mature,'" Stokes said. "Chris was looking for guidance."
These days, he works for boxing booster Billy Stanick, whose sheet metal and roofing company sits next door to his White Rock Gym. Fitzpatrick's days begin with roadwork at 5:30 a.m.; he works roofs from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. before heading back to the gym.
"Billy said, 'Chris is the only fighter he knows who works all day on a roof, then goes to the gym,'" Stokes said, laughing.
Considering his age and background, Fitzpatrick comes across as ... well, a traditionalist. Asked about boxing on an MMA-dominated card, he shrugged.
"A brutal sport; I mean, they're both brutal," he said. "But I'm not down with getting my bones broken.
"I like standup fighting. I think it is more art; MMA is mostly street-fighting."
Stokes, who is promoting both, winced.
"To stay competitive as promoters, we've got to get with the (MMA) program," he said. "If there's no MMA, (local boxing) gets lost in the shuffle. We're able to develop (boxers) with the revenue we generate from MMA."
He looked at Fitzpatrick and chuckled. "This is the most he's talked in seven months," Stokes said.
A photographer, on hand to take pictures of Fitzpatrick, asked him to remove his shirt. The word "Fantasma" - "ghost" in Spanish, a tattoo tribute, he said, to his stepfather, Alfredo Castro Topete - stretched across his muscular shoulders.
Better that than a bulls-eye.