Our Mr. Brooks

By Pete Ehrmann on July 23, 2017
Our Mr. Brooks
Eddie Brooks made international headlines in 1971 by knocking down Muhammad Ali.

The hands of the timid 15-year-old “Wisconsin Correspondent for Ring Magazine” were shaking much more than usual…

Eddie Brooks made international headlines in 1971 by knocking down Muhammad Ali, but the Milwaukee heavyweight’s most compelling performance in the ring was as an amateur in the 1966 Milwaukee Golden Gloves.

It was a year of homecomings in local boxing, beginning with the Golden Gloves tournament itself.

Seven years after the first tournament was held here in 1931, The Milwaukee Journal took over sponsorship of the Golden Gloves, and thanks to the newspaper’s unstinting promotion the tournament was a stellar fixture on the local sports scene for the next 18 years.

After The Journal ended its sponsorship in 1955, Milwaukee amateurs had to travel to Kenosha, Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Rockford, Illinois to fight in the Golden Gloves, until local businessman Jack Pellmann brought the tournament back to the Milwaukee Auditorium in ‘66.

It also marked the return to the Golden Gloves of local heavyweights Eddie Brooks and Charlie Singleton.

Brooks started boxing as a teenager at the legendary Urban League gym on N. 9th and W. Vine Sts., where coach Baby Joe Gans, the great late-1920s lightweight, turned out more amateur champions every year than any other gym. Brooks won the novice middleweight title in the Rockford Golden Gloves in 1958, and was runner-up in the Kenosha tournament the next year as a light heavyweight. The Boys Tech High School grad later joined the US Army, and after winning the All-Army heavyweight title in 1963 Brooks didn’t fight again until the ‘66 Golden Gloves.

Charlie Singleton played football and ran track at Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School and was a five-time Golden Gloves champion starting in 1960. After he won the open division heavyweight title in 1962, ‘63 and ‘64, tournament officials asked Singleton to sit out the 1965 tournament to give someone else a crack at it.

(Lanky Milwaukeean Mike Bressette won the heavyweight title in ’65, and at the subsequent National Golden Gloves Tournament in Kansas City, when all the heavyweight entries gathered for the opening round pairings to be randomly drawn, Bresette and coach Del Porter crossed their fingers in hopes Bressette would draw the smallest heavyweight in the field for his first opponent. He did not—for which Bressette and Porter ended up grateful after little Jerry Quarry knocked out all five of his tournament foes to win the championship.)

The 5’10”, 200-pound Singleton’s return in ‘66 and the entries of Brooks and three others made it the most imposing heavyweight field in recent Golden Gloves history.

On the opening night of competition on February 14, the 6’2”, 220-pound Brooks didn’t fight like somebody who’d been out of action three years. First he stopped James Sherard in two rounds, and then flattened Pete Buckner, the previous year’s novice Golden Gloves heavyweight champion, in 37 seconds.

In his only bout that night, Singleton beat Jim Wildrick by TKO in the third round to set up the regional championship match largely responsible for the 2,300 fans at the finals three days later.
The open division heavyweight championship fight was the last of 17 bouts that evening, the shortest and most unforgettable. Playing Sonny Liston to Singleton’s Floyd Patterson, Brooks smashed Charlie down twice before the fight was stopped at 1:37 of the opening round.

“This is no amateur fighter,” wrote Ray Grody in the Milwaukee Sentinel the next day. “Brooks has had a wealth of experience in this business and it showed up in practically every move he made.”

Brooks lost to eventual champion James Howard in the semi-finals of the National Golden Gloves Tournament. In his pro debut a few months later he was stunningly kayoed in the first round by Orville Qualls. But the Army Reserve sergeant rebounded and three years later Brooks and Charlie Singleton, whose nine pro victories (one loss and a draw) included a decision over Qualls, fought for the Wisconsin heavyweight championship. Eddie won in eight one-sided rounds that lacked the drama of their first meeting.

Cleveland Williams, the biggest name on Brooks’ 19-4-1 record, knocked him out in the first round in 1970.

Brooks served on the sparring staffs of heavyweight champions Ali, Ernie Terrell and George Foreman, and his biggest claim to boxing immortality came when he decked The Greatest in the gym. Said Ali afterwards: “I don’t want and I wouldn’t advise that it go to his head.” It didn’t. Eddie was too down-to-earth and humble for that. While far from the top tier of boxers in Milwaukee ring history, Brooks’ innate decency and unfailing good nature were of championship caliber. 

Charlie Singleton died of a heart attack in 1972. After a struggle with dementia, 80-year-old Eddie Brooks passed away on July 15.

More than a half-century after their first meeting, the shock and awe that crackled through the Milwaukee Auditorium that night are still palpable. After the winner exited the ring, the hands of the timid 15-year-old “Wisconsin Correspondent for Ring Magazine” were shaking much more than usual as I took the photo of the new colossus of Milwaukee boxing that accompanies this.

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