The special fighters who were members of the “Murderer’s Row” (the group of 1940’s middleweights, all of them black, each of them avoided by the world champions, given their nickname by the legendary Budd Schulberg), really were born fighters. Among the “Murderer’s Row” were fearsome ring warriors/generals/killers like Lloyd Marshall, Holman Williams, Cocoa Kid, Charley Burley, Jack Chase, and Bert Lytell.
Yet the best of the lot just might have been one Hilton Edward “Eddie” Booker. Given his own nickname outside of the group of criminally avoided fighters, that of “Black Dynamite,” Booker was a fighter who could do it all. Back in those days, if a fighter couldn’t fight more than one way or more than three ways, if, for example, he was a slick boxer but not capable of going into a slugging match, he would not survive. Booker knew it; hence he became proficient at boxing and moving, of going into the trenches, of banging out a foe – of basically doing anything and everything. Some people were reminded of the fine defensive skills of Jack Johnson when they saw how Booker could catch a shot in flight.
Indeed, the man from San Jose was one of the best to ever do it, at so many levels. Booker’s accomplishments are all the more impressive as his ring career was over when he was just 26. Going pro in early 1935, at just 17 years of age, the 5’9” Booker won his first 21 bouts before being held to a draw by Jimmy Wakefield, and he did not lose a fight until his 45th outing when he was decisioned over eight by Fritzie Zivic. Over time, in fighting so many tough fights on the West Coast of America, “Black Dynamite” – who fought from welterweight to light-heavyweight – shared a ring with the following luminaries:
Archie Moore, Cocoa Kid, Holman Williams, Lloyd Marshall, Fritzie Zivic, Shorty Hogue, Jack Chase, and Harry Matthews.
Booker was the first man to ever KO Moore; this in their third fight, the initial two bouts being scored draws. Unfortunately, as in agonizingly so, Booker’s career was over just two months after his January 1944 KO of “The Ol’ Mongoose.” For after his March 1944 points win over Holman Williams, Booker was forced to retire with eye trouble (a deliberately tampered glove may well have been used in a fight, this giving Booker his career-ending injury).
No one knows just how good, how great Booker may have been had his career not been so cruelly cut short. As it is, in a listed 77 pro bouts – 66 wins, 5 losses, 8 draws – Booker accomplished a good deal. The wins Booker scored over Moore, Hogue, Marshall, and Williams deserve huge respect, and Booker scored most of these big wins at the end of his career. Oh, and Booker was never once stopped himself.
That long list of ‘greatest fighters never to have fought for a world title’ just gets longer and longer each time you dip into boxing’s long, rich and fascinating history.
Booker, who was blind in his final years, passed away far too young, at age 57, in San Francisco in January of 1975. Never did a greater fighter have things so hard.
Booker was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 2017. The honor was more than deserved.