Toughest Opponent Has Been Himself : Charlie Brown Tries to Prove He's More Than Just a Good Man

Times Staff Writer

They call boxer Charlie Brown "White Lightning," which is just fine with Charlie Brown.

As boxing nicknames go, it's not all that bad. Besides, it's better than being called washed up.

Brown has been called that, too. And at a very young age. That's why's bounced from New Jersey to Las Vegas to North Hollywood, where he is training with Ten Goose boxing.

At the age of 20, and after only three years as a professional, Charlie Brown is on the comeback trail.

He's out to prove the people who said he could never be a winner again were wrong. And those people who said he was a good fighter, but couldn't handle success? He's says they're wrong too.

It's mid afternoon on a warm summer weekday at the Ten Goose gym. It is here that Charlie Brown goes through his own purgatory.

It is here that he tries to atone for the good times of the past. The times he stayed out until the wee hours of the morning, drinking, eating, and basically being a good-time Charlie.

He's paying for it now, in sweat.

He works out six days a week, running four to five miles a day, sparring six rounds, jumping rope, punching bags and doing sit ups.

And sometimes, he suffers just thinking of what might have been.

Brown was labeled "White Lightning" by a couple of the young black kids who use to hang around the Gleason gym in Manhattan and watch the pro fighters work out. "They said they had never seen a white guy with faster hands," Brown says proudly.

If those kids thought Brown was fast in the ring, they should have seen him dancing disco inside the Studio 54 night club. Especially after a few drinks.

Brown had just about everything a bachelor in the Big Apple could possibly ask for.

He was celebrity, having already fought on national television on several occasions. He was good looking, too, and he had a reputation of being able to find a good time.

Money? He was making a lot, and he was willingly to part with it.

Said Brown: "I used to go out about three times a week and drink and party until around two or three o'clock in the morning. When I was training, I'd only stay out Friday and Saturday night, but if I had time off I'd go almost every night. My weight would go from 135 to 155, practically all because of drinking. I was destroying my body."

His reputation as a fighter was also crumbling. Boxing promoters, managers and trainers took turns whispering to each other that Brown's career had succumbed to the lure of booze.

In the ring, however, Brown was surviving rather well. He won his first 23 professional fights and earned himself a title bout against former International Boxing Federation champion Harry Arroyo. Brown's share of the purse: $65,000. It was the biggest fight of his life.

It became his first loss.

Brown won the first five rounds on all three judges' cards, but Arroyo came back to stop him in the eighth.

It was after that fight that a financial dispute Brown and New Jersey-based fight manager Lenny Shaw came to a head. Brown said goodby and headed for Las Vegas to work with Eddie Futch, the trainer of Larry Holmes. Shaw said good riddance.

Six months later, Brown met an unknown named Harold Brazier in a bout at Lake Tahoe. His share of the purse: $5,000. He lost again.

"It really hit me just how far I had fallen after that fight," Brown said. "I realized that after fighting for $65,000, I was fighting for $5,000 and on my way down from there. It was time for me to look in the mirror and when I did, I didn't like what I saw. I remember talking to my mom after losing. My eyes and face were all beaten up and swollen. She said to me, 'Charlie, if boxing is going to make you look like that, maybe it's time to get out of boxing.' I agreed."

Brown made a decision, but it wasn't to hang up the gloves. Instead, he vowed to get in shape and make the next guy walk away scarred and swollen. Futch, Brown concluded, was spending too much time running around the country to work with other fighters. He needed some individual attention. He needed a manager and a trainer who believed he could make it back to the top and were willing to work as hard as he was. Which is where Ten Goose entered the picture.

Bob Surkein, former president of the American Boxing Federation, recommended Ten Goose to Brown and Brown to Ten Goose.

After meeting Dan Goossen, Ten Goose's manager, and his brother Joe, the trainer, Brown signed a contract. No signing bonus, just a warning.

"One of the first things I told him was, 'No booze. One beer and you're out of here,' " Dan Goossen said. "That was our deal. He knew what we wanted before he signed with us. He said he had goals. We said that if he came out here and worked his butt off, he'd attain those goals.

"I had heard the rumors. People were saying he had a drinking problem. Others said he was into drugs. We made some calls and we talked to a lot of people. Not all of what we heard was positive.

"But we talked to him about it. We got to hear his side. He was young, living alone, and he was making a lot of money. A lot of people would, and have, made the same kind of mistakes he did. What really mattered to us was his attitude now. We told him he was coming out here to box and nothing else."

The man in charge of keeping Brown on the right track is Joe Goossen, who says he was not intimidated by the reputation that proceeded Brown's arrival.

"What they said about Charlie didn't surprise me," Joe Goossen said. "It happens to a lot of fighters--too much, too fast. What I see in Charlie is a man who knows his mistakes and is looking to get back on top. I think that's why he's out here--to start over again and stay on the right path. I've seen a lot of dedication on his part. His reputation before doesn't matter. All I know for sure is that he's up every morning at 5:30 to run. Six days a week, he's in the gym. So far, he's stayed the course, and if he keeps it up he's only about two months away from being ready to fight a top ten opponent."

Brown checked into the Goossen camp four weeks ago weighing 155 pounds. He's down to 143. He should be about 140 when he steps into the ring Tuesday in a junior welterweight bout against Ted Michaliszyn (12-3) of Las Vegas at the Country Club in Reseda.

Dan Goossen says Brown has shown a normal amount of rust after three months off.

"What were doing is putting him through kind of a spring training," Dan Goossen said. "We're going over all the fundamentals step by step. And we're doing a lot of conditioning--without any complaints from Charlie. In fact, about a week ago he told Joe and I he'd like to run a little harder.

"Bob (Surkein) called again today, asking about Charlie's progress. I said, 'Bob, we're proud to have him.' "

Dan Goossen's hopes Brown can quickly return to his old form. He feels he has an up and coming star in welterweight Michael Nunn, but Brown, who has been ranked in the top ten before, can give him an immediate contender.

"Charlie has already shown he can fight with a champion (Arroyo)," Dan Goossen said. "If he can beat a champion for five rounds, there's no reason he can't do it for 10 or 15. Our job is to give him those extra rounds of training and confidence.

"He's been on national television three times and ESPN on several other occasions. He's good looking. He speaks well. If we can get him going again, TV will be just around the corner. This is a great opportunity--for Charlie Brown, and for Ten Goose boxing. I know what we can do. I just hope he does what he's capable of doing. If he does, we'll have that championship we've been working for.

"People were telling me that he might be washed up. Well, he's 20 years old, he has a 23-2 record and he's out here working his tail off. At this point you could say I'm pretty darn sure he's not through. In fact, I'm banking on it."

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