Charles Brewer Jr. was less than a day removed from his professional boxing debut when he went back to his day job. He had taken a few solid punches the night before, but dealt more punishment than he took, winning a second-round technical knockout.
Running on fumes, he was almost in disbelief when he realized he felt good enough to return to his post as a Pennsauken Township police officer. One 12-hour shift later, he felt fine. The following morning, the 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift caught up to him.
“I felt like I had been in a car crash,” Brewer said, laughing.
Brewer’s long-term career goals are in professional boxing, but right now police work pays his bills. The gym in his Pennsauken station is a nice perk, too. Brewer’s sergeant, Gavin Rossner, often sees Brewer training hours before the 25-year-old boxer’s shift is set to start.
During a five-day work week, Brewer’s routine starts in the gym around 4:30 p.m. The former track and field star at Pennsauken High School will do some cardiovascular training and calisthenics. He’s integrating weight training into his workouts, as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with his speed.
After training, Brewer showers and trades his workout clothes for his police uniform in preparation for his 12-hour overnight shift.
Almost any day he’s not working, he’s in his boxing gym, Champs Gym in Delran. His team is headed up by his dad, Charles Sr., a former middleweight champion who finished his career with a 40-11 record.
“Those are the days we’re pushing it to the limit,” Brewer Jr. said. “My dad’s there, we’re critiquing every little thing, as far as footwork and ring IQ, which is more important than probably anything else."
Some of Brewer’s earliest memories are the afternoons he spent in boxing gyms while his dad trained. As he grew up, his dad would show him the fundamentals of the sport.
He was well-versed on the proper footwork and how to work a speed bag from an early age, but boxing wasn’t in his plans. In high school, he excelled at track and field, running the 400-meter dash in 52.92 seconds.
“I grew up in [boxing], but I never wanted to do it,” Brewer said. "I would be like, ‘Nah, I’m OK. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to get hit.' But I remember being a little kid hitting a speed bag [standing] on a chair, or jumping rope. I’m like 4 years old and I’m skipping rope.
“My dad and I would throw combinations, and even then he’d be like, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right. With the correct form.’ And I think all that just stuck. Now that I’m older, I’m thankful.”
The foundation laid by Charles Sr., nicknamed The Hatchet during his fighting days, gave Brewer a leg up once he turned his focus to boxing.
Brewer first considered boxing for a living during his freshman year at Gloucester County Community College in 2014. He hit a heavy bag while at the gym and got the itch. His gym buddy told him he looked pretty good pounding the bag, and Brewer went back the next week to do it again.
When he first told his dad about his interest, Brewer Jr. said he was surprised by his father’s apathetic response. Charles Sr. wanted to see how serious his son was. Once Charles Jr. persisted, the two started going to the gym together.
“I told my dad, and he brushed it off at first,” Brewer said. “He wanted to see how many times I was going to keep bringing it up. … A couple times later, I’m like ‘Hey, Dad, I think I want to try it.’ He said, ‘If you’re serious, I’ll take you to the gym.’"
Brewer Jr.'s pro career is off to a promising start. The light heavyweight beat Kyle Fritz, also making his pro debut, with a second-round TKO in front of family, friends, and fellow police officers on Jan 31.
Brewer spent the rest of the night celebrating with those who came to support him. He said his mom, who was against him getting into boxing in the first place, wasn’t as nervous about his bout as she used to be during his father’s career. Why?
“Because my dad was in my corner,” Brewer said. “She knows he’s looking out for my best interest and telling me the right things in training camp. When we’re in the corner, he’s not just my trainer, he’s my dad.”
Rossner, who was in attendance on Jan. 31, said it was good to see Brewer’s work ethic come to fruition in the ring. Rossner has been in the Pennsauken police force for 17 years and has supervised Brewer for the past four months.
“He went in there and handled his business,” Rossner said. “It’s pretty impressive that he can handle all the training and the job — it’s demanding. We do 12-hour shifts. You have to find some time to sleep and recover, but he’s still out there doing his job. He writes a good report, which is a big part of it, too. Not just physical stuff, he’s got the mental side of it.”
At 6 feet tall and a muscular 180 pounds, Brewer’s imposing figure gives Rossner confidence when the two are in potentially confrontational situations. But Brewer, who was a correctional officer at Camden County Jail, said the biggest edge his boxing skills give him is his ability to stay calm in hostile moments.
His patient approach comes partly because he’s comfortable in potentially violent encounters, and partly because he’s experienced in reading people’s body language, knowing when things may escalate and when they likely won’t. When he was a corrections officer, Brewer would sometimes be confronted by inmates, challenging him to fights and hurling insults. Brewer kept a level head and avoided the temptation of accepting the challenge because of his security in his fighting ability.
“People automatically think just because I’m a boxer, I’m violent when it comes to law enforcement," Brewer said. "But it actually makes you calmer. I’m probably the last person to get into anything. … I think it helps. It helps with my de-escalation.
“Sometimes, how people grow up and the areas they’re from or the things they haven’t dealt with, they get challenged at work and they go crazy,” Brewer added. “I’m calm, I go into every situation a little more aware of things. Funny enough, looking at people boxing in the ring, you get so used to how people are standing. If someone’s about to hit you, they’re not standing in front of you, they square up and adjust their hands and tuck their chin, you can tell.”
Brewer returned to the gym a week after his first professional win. He took a few days off and allowed himself foods that were off limits during training, like a plate of chicken wings and a cheesesteak. It caught up to him.
“I felt like a gerbil,” he said on how bloated his stomach seemed to him.
He starts with shadow boxing at a frenetic pace. He pulls up an app on his phone with a timer set to boxing rounds: three minutes of work, one minute of rest. Then he does a few rounds on the speed bag, rhythmically working it until it becomes a blur. He’s come a long way since knocking away at it by standing on a chair as a kid
“I went through the same thing everybody else went through. Pennsauken is not a bad neighborhood, but you can go either way,” Brewer said. “I became a police officer, and on top of that now, I’m a professional athlete. If I can make something positive out of myself, someone else can.”
He’s off to a good start, whether he realizes it or not. During his Friday evening training session, the half-dozen boxing students getting an introductory lesson to the sport each took breaks from throwing three-punch combinations on a heavy bag to steal a look at the professional boxer from Pennsauken as he methodically punished his bag.
One of the students asks how his first fight went.