by James Slater – Philadelphia’s Charles “The Hatchet” Brewer carved out a career as one of modern-day boxing’s most consistently exciting fighters during his tenure amongst the super-middleweights of the 1990s and early 2000s. Making his pro-debut at The Blue Horizon in Philly back in August of 1989, Brewer fought the best right up until his final bout – a 10th round TKO loss to Lolenga Mock in April of 2005. The fight with Mock marked a number of fights in which Brewer boxed abroad. Fighting in Countries like Germany, Denmark and the U.K, Charles was never afraid of going into another guy’s backyard.
This fighting spirit saw to it that Brewer ascended all the way to the IBF’s 168 pound throne. Capturing the title with a 5th round stoppage of Gary Ballard in June of ’97, Charles would make three successful retentions – including one against Britain’s unlucky Herol “Bomber” Graham the following year.. Then Brewer took a fight with Germany’s unbeaten Sven Ottke, in Ottke’s backyard, and was the victim of a bad decision that prompts Brewer today to call it “the worst moment of my entire career.”
There was plenty of fight still in Brewer following a second split decision loss to Ottke (again in Germany), however. Most memorable of which was “The Hatchet’s” thrilling twelve-rounder with Welshman Joe Calzaghe in April of 2002. Brewer lost that one, but gave the fans a true night to remember – as he did on an exceedingly high number of times throughout an ultra-exciting career. This career, which finished at 40-11(28), gets some overdue acknowledgment and credit this coming November, when Brewer’s name will be added to the great ones already enshrined in The New Jersey Hall of Fame. Tim Witherspoon, for one, will also be inducted the same day as Brewer.
Speaking to me about this honour, along with the standout memories of a true warrior’s career, Charles very kindly gave me an hour or so of his time recently.
How has life been treating Brewer since he hung up the gloves, I began by asking.
“I must be honest,” said Brewer in a voice that sounded clear enough, if a little slurred. “I have been tempted to come back and do it again. I miss it. But then again, I also am well aware of the dangers that exist in boxing. I was quite close to Leavander Johnson – we fought together a lot as amateurs – and it was awful what happened to him quite recently. Also, the thing with Gerald [McClellan] reminds me how tough the sport of boxing can be. But I was somewhat tempted to come back, I must confess.”
Brewer, thankfully, will not be coming back. How does he occupy his time now then? I had heard he is making a name for himself as a trainer these days.
” Yes, I’ve gotten into training fighters myself – no-one too big or significant yet, but that’s gonna change, I’m patient. Also, I write for a boxing web site, called PhillyKeith.com. So I like to keep my name out there, I’ll always be around boxing, always.”
There is genuine pride in Brewer’s voice as he speaks of his loyalty to the sport he became a champion in. Charles certainly had a great and exciting career. Going right back to the very start, how did he first get into boxing, and how old was he when he first laced on the gloves?
“My mom got me into it, actually. I was 8-years-old and she took me to a local gym in Philly. I stayed around the sport, but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I really got into it seriously. I was fortunate in that my first trainer, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, stayed with me right throughout my entire amateur and pro careers. I learnt so much from being around that guy, from being in the gym all the time with him and other guys in the [Philadelphia] area.”
Fight fans will surely know of Watts and his own fine career, but who were Brewer’s other boxing heroes/influences back then?
“To be honest with you, I was never a guy who was a boxing fan. I was a fighter, but not a fight fan. I liked to see true skill from a boxer, and I admired that, but I was never a fight fan. As far as being inspired, though, I have to say that Mike Tyson and his desire and dedication to training, that inspired me to train. Mike was just unstoppable in those early days of his career, and I really liked his mentality. Outside of the ring, now that’s another matter altogether. But in the gym and in the ring, he was awesome.”
There really are so many great fights of “The Hatchet’s” to speak of, which ones stick uppermost in his mind, though?
“Well, let’s start with my most difficult fight, ” Brewer says with a smile. “Without a doubt, my hardest ever fight was the one with Herol Graham. Let me tell you why. He hit me with a straight left in round three and dropped me. What happened was, I tore two ligaments in my right ankle as I went down. I was in severe pain, the kind you can’t imagine, for the rest of the fight. Also, he was one of the craftiest southpaws ever. Continuing with the injury, against such a crafty, crafty fighter was extremely difficult. I actually got mad in the fight, and I told my trainer, “I’m gonna catch this guy and send him to sleep!” And in the tenth round, I caught him and my punch pretty much paralysed him along the ropes. He was a very good fighter though, one of the best. In fact, he should have definitely been a world champion. He was given the opportunity, but for some reason fell short.”
Speaking of British fighters, I had to ask Charles about his great fight with Joe Calzaghe. What are his memories of that one?
“I tell you honestly. Before that fight I’d never really heard of him! But in the run up to it, he was saying he was going to stop me or knock me out. I remember thinking, “Does this guy know who I am?” I knew there was no way he was gonna knock me out. But that was a great fight. I have to give it to him, he rumbled with me. The thing with that fight was, neither of us fought the fight we should have. We both deviated from what we’d worked on in the gym – I know I did anyway. My trainer was giving me hell for not sticking to the game-plan, and his trainer was giving him hell. We just both went toe-to-toe. That made it a great fan-friendly fight, but I was so disappointed afterwards for having deviated from what I’d worked on in the gym. But I can say, that is a fight I lost honestly, and I don’t mind saying that.”
Getting back to when he first became champion, how did Brewer feel when he defeated Gary Ballard for the IBF belt in 1997?
“Oh, that was the most gratifying feeling of my life. (becoming a little emotional) To have finally become world champion, after all the sacrifice and hard work, it was just a great feeling of elation.”
Brewer made three successful defences (including the 1998 one over Herol Graham) but then lost on points to Sven Ottke in Germany. Does Charles think that was a fair decision, the way they scored it?
(somewhat sternly) “Listen, that was without a doubt the most devastating loss of my entire career. That was a loss that was just given to me. My title was taken from me, and everyone knows it was not a fair or real loss. I didn’t mind going into his, or anyone else’s, backyard. But to have been robbed like I was, that was the worse moment from my entire career.”
Brewer then lost a return fight with Ottke, again in Germany, and lost again the same way. Why exactly did he not mind going to another fighter’s hometown so often?
“The reason is simple. I had a hard and quite adverse upbringing. There was no silver spoon in my mouth. So when I was boxing, when I was offered the chance to go to another country, to places no-one from my neighbourhood would have ever dreamed of going, I jumped at the chance! It gave me a chance to see the world. I loved that. Also, as a world champion, I was willing to face anyone in the world. I wanted to show that I was a true world champion. Today, as a result of my fighting in other countries, I’m more of a name in Europe than I am in The States.”
Without a doubt, Brewer gave the fans some truly great and exciting fights. Was that something he prided himself on, giving all-action fights all the time?
“No. I never went into a fight planning on giving any type of performance for the fans. When I was getting ready for a fight I was ready and focused on winning only. That was all that mattered, winning the fight. It just turned out that my fights became very crowd-pleasing ones (laughs). Of course, I’m happy the fans remember me for giving them good fights.”
I was curious, of all the men he fought, who hit Brewer the hardest? He didn’t mind the question.
“That’s a hard one to answer. (after a long pause) I can’t really think of anyone who hit me so hard I said to myself, “Wow, I’m gonna collapse!” Yes, I was stopped in some of my fights, but even in the one with Lonnie Beasley ( A shock 1st round TKO loss) that was simply a case of me being hit with a shot I never saw. Anyone can go down from a shot they don’t see – so I can’t really say that fight. And the Antwun Echols fight ( a 3rd round TKO defeat) was a bad stoppage by the referee in my opinion. Echols hit me with a flush shot, and he was supposed to be a real big puncher, but I stayed up. I can’t really answer your question, I suppose.”
Today, Brewer is indeed remembered as one of the most exciting fighters of his era. But does he have any regrets about how his career went. Is there any one thing he’d change if he had to do it all over again?
“There is one thing, yes. I’d have fought Ottke again, but I’d have made sure there was a rematch clause that stipulated that if I lost there would be an immediate rematch – but IN AMERICA (emphasis added). There is no way that guy beat me. In fact, I don’t know how he was ever a world champion. That loss [the first one] in the one thing that hurt me the most in my entire boxing career. But to finish off talking to you on a high note, I want to tell you that I’m going to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame this year. Myself and Tim Witherspoon and Meldrick Taylor are being inducted. People here in Philly have been saying that this is one of the greatest induction classes ever!”
Those people are not wrong. Charles “The Hatchet” Brewer fully deserves to be right in the middle of such a prestigious group.