|Philly’s Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown, the real deal! - Boxing
By Ken Hissner (March 7, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
When you walk into 26th & Master Street’s gym in North Philly you better be ready to lace up the gloves. Current unbeaten fighters Tyrone Brunson (18-0) and Malik Scott (30-0) spent their amateur days there. The 1996 Gold Medalist David Reid (17-2), and WBA light middleweight champion was the last from the gym to hold a title. The first was Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown, (26-16-2), the IBF lightweight champion. Fred Jenkins who is responsible for training most of these fighters was kind enough to share some of the ups and downs of Browns career.
First, I want to say Jenkins is one of the most down to earth guy’s you will meet in the game. He has had his hands full with the outlaws that have wandered into the gym and turned into real fighters instead of street fighters. This is with a Police precinct just across the street. He has had Andre Sharp Richardson (13-0) and Brian “Boogaloo” Jones (10-3), two 1984 Olympic hopefuls until breaking the law. The Jackson brothers, Jerome “Silky” Jackson (11-5-1) and Ernest Jackson (12-9-1) were two others. Current top WBA middleweight contender Randy Griffin (24-1-3) who just drew in a championship effort and Zahir Raheem (29-2) who had his shot at the WBO lightweight title not that long ago also came out of that gym. Marvin “Machine Gun” Garris (15-10-1) and Rockin Rodney Moore (38-10-2) who got three shots at world titles along with James “The House” Stanton (17-6) kept the gyms reputation alive over the years.
Of all the above Brown set the groundwork being the first to become a world champion. He had good blood lines. His uncle was Henry “Toothpick” Brown (24-7-2) whose career ended with Len Matthews (42-10-3). Even the latter
was a relative by marriage to Brown. Brown’s dad Lloyd “Hurricane” Brown and Uncle Henry each won the Diamond Belt the same night in the amateurs. His dad had his pro ambitions curtailed by starting a family.
It all started as a pro, where else but the legendary Blue Horizon with a first round kayo over Wayne Dabney. His first 7 fights ended the short route except for a win over Angel Cruz (7-1) of Bethlehem. Two months later he went up to Allentown where near where Cruz lived, losing a disputed decision to Jose Gonzalez (8-8). He then went unbeaten in 4 fights including one over future IBF junior welterweight champion Gary Hinton (9-0) also of Philly.
Brown’s first loss was in his next fight with Curtis Harris in Totowa, New Jersey’s Ice World. Bad accommodations were only the start of a bad night before being stopped in the 4th. The next win started a 13 fight win streak which led right to the title fight. Along the way he beat Al “Earthquake” Carter (28-5) and Philly’s Jerome Artis (27-16-4). “I had many a war with Artis, right here in the gym prior to that fight” said Brown. Most of these fights were in Atlantic City except for one more trip back to the Ice World decisioning Gary Gibson (5-2).
At the end of 1983 Brown would meet Ruben Munoz (16-3) in Atlantic City. “In sparring he had some damaged ribs” said Jenkins. Brown knew he had to get Munoz out of there quick or the injury to the ribs may make it too painful to continue once the fight got started. This would turn out to be an elimination bout for Brown in order to meet Melvin Paul (17-2) for the newly created IBF lightweight title. The fight itself was taken on 2 days notice. This was nothing new for Brown. He had a devastating left hook to make up for the times he was not in the kind of shape he should be in. Brown did what he set out to do in stopping Munoz in 1:32 of the first round. He would have a little over 6 weeks to train for the match with Paul. Paul’s biggest win was over previously unbeaten Tyrone “Butterfly” Crawley (11-0) of Philly in a 12 rounder.
Brown had won 12 straight since the defeat by Harris. “I knew Paul was the kind of guy that would come to fight and I was the same,” said Brown. It was a hard fought fight with Brown winning a split decision in 15 rounds. “This was a scrappy fight. They threw all techniques out the window and went to war,” said Jenkins. So on January 30, 1984 Brown became the first IBF lightweight champion.
The stage was already set several weeks earlier in Atlantic City to determine who Brown would defend against next. Rockin Robin Blake (22-1) who had defeated both Munoz and Paul was put in with unbeaten Harry Arroyo (22-0). Blake’s only loss was in his last fight with Crawley. Arroyo won a close decision. It was a tough defense for Brown to make so soon after winning the title. Several times the opponent got changed and even called off. When they were finally given the go ahead Brown only had 3 days notice. Though he knew he would have to fight someone inside those 90 days he didn’t know who. “He was not in the proper shape,” said Jenkins. Arroyo stopped Brown in the 14th round to capture the title. This would be Browns last world title bout.
After a quick knockout win Brown traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet former WBC super featherweight champion Cornelius Boza Edwards (40-5). “Edwards was the best boxer I ever fought. He saw what you were going to do before you did it,” said Brown. Edwards was a winner in the 3rd round. “We took a fight on 2 days notice just to keep busy with Jorge Nina that ended in an 8 round draw. Our fight with Crawley (18-1) would finally happen next, in June of 1985 in Atlantic City for the vacant NABF title. “I thought it was a bad decision when they gave it to Crawley by majority decision,” said Jenkins. “Crawley moved around the ring too much,” said Brown. I told him “that’s why they called him Butterfly.”
Next was a trip to Australia to meet their junior welterweight champion Pat Leglise (24-1-1). “I hit him with a left hook in the 3rd round,” said Brown. One of the observers of that fight was recently quoted as saying “Pat was a really classy fighter until he met Brown. He was never the same after that.” “The people down there loved us so much they wanted to bring our families down so we could live there,” said Jenkins. The people really treated us good there,” said Brown. In less than 3 months Brown was back in Australia against Nick Parker of the US (13-8-1) who had only been stopped once. The people expected another quick knockout. “I wasn’t able to make the trip because I had 3 other fighters lined up with fights,” said Jenkins. When Brown only decisioned Parker the people were very disappointed. “I don’t know what happened down there, but he was never the same fighter after he came back. The promoter never called us again,” said Jenkins. “I was doing stuff down there I should not have been doing,” said Brown.
Just 2 fights later Brown would go to Paris, France and lose a close decision to Jose Luis Ramirez (91-6) the former and future WBC lightweight champion. Several losses later Jenkins suggested that Brown retire but when he didn’t, it was the last time Jenkins would work his corner in early 1984. Brown seemed surprised when I reminded him he never won another fight again after the trip to Australia. He retired in 1989 only to come back in 1992. He finally called it quits in 1993. Take away those last 11 fights and Brown’s record would not look the same.
Today, Brown is in good spirits. When I shared a story how I saw him and Bruce Williams in a war in the very gym we spoke, he laughed and said “I had many a war in this gym.” This seems to be a real pattern for quite a few of the top fighters of yesteryear in Philly. There was no such thing as just working out in a sparring session. You had to defend your turf whether it was a visiting fighter or one from your own gym. One thing for sure, all those associated with Brown in those days had the highest respect for him as he was the first to bring home the world title to 26th and Masters. Good fighters have followed from there but none with the same excitement that he brought to the crowds.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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