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In Milwaukee History

Former Milwaukee boxer Fred Radmer and his daughter, Melissa Vukovich, standing in front of Fred's boxing shrine.

Former boxer Fred Radmer keeps on fighting

Win or lose – and of his more than 40 amateur fights, he lost only a handful – Fred Radmer was well known and popular for the all-out effort that was his trademark in the boxing ring.

Forty-six years ago, Milwaukee Sentinel sportswriter Ray Grody even anointed the baby-faced 112-pounder as "The People's Choice" when Radmer, then 16, fought his way to the finals of the state Golden Gloves tournament. He lost a close decision in the championship bout at the Milwaukee Auditorium that year, but took home the trophy designating him as the "Outstanding Fighter" of the whole tournament in the novice division.

Later, Radmer won two Golden Gloves state titles, and in 1969 he became a member of the Milwaukee Bombers, the team of elite boxers that represented Brew City in the short-lived International Boxing League and was – in those days before the Brewers, the Wave and the Admirals joined the list – one of only two big league sports franchises in town, the other being the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now 61 and living in West Allis, Radmer is still an indomitable fighter, only since he hung up his boxing gloves more than three decades ago the competition has been even tougher – racism, ignorance, political charlatanry, alcoholism, illness.

He grew up on North 38th and West Brown Streets, where as a boy he and his friend Jerry LaMoore (also later a Golden Gloves champion) sparred in Radmer's backyard. Fred's dad, Ken, had boxed in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, and also fought in the Golden Gloves in the early 1940s.

"I always liked boxing," says Radmer. "I learned self-reliance and how to take care of myself."

He liked it so much that in 1965, when he was 15, he said he was 16 – the minimum age – to enter the Golden Gloves tournament then held in Kenosha. After stopping his first opponent Radmer lost in the regional finals, but Evans Kirkby of The Milwaukee Journal wrote, "one of the best fights of the night came ... when Duane Priske of Kenosha outpointed Fred Radmer of Milwaukee in a battle of handsome little 112 pounders."

When the Gloves moved to Milwaukee the next year his legend achieved full liftoff. By '69, when Radmer became a charter member of the Milwaukee Bombers, he had grown into a handsome little featherweight (126 pounds).

The International Boxing League was the brainchild of broadcaster Jack Drees, whose original idea was to establish teams of professional boxers in select major cities around the country that would fight each other in a round-robin of meets. Wes Pavalon, who'd brought the basketball Bucks to town in '68, headed the Milwaukee IBL franchise, but when it was decided to start the league off with amateur rather than professional boxers, Pavalon bailed and the Bombers were taken over by Racine businessman Allen Buhler.

The other IBL franchises were in Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Louisville, Miami, New York City and St. Louis. When the Bombers debuted at Louisville on Nov. 10, 1969, Radmer won the team's first victory in the ring.

The concept of big league boxing wasn't a winner here. Home meets at the Arena and Auditorium drew sparse crowds, and after finishing with a record of 4-5-1 in their first season the Bombers folded. The IBL itself went down for the count a year later.

The padded headgear amateur boxers are required to wear today wasn't an option when Radmer was fighting, but thanks to his hit-and-not-be-hit strategy he was never hurt in the ring. By the time he quit boxing in 1977, though, Radmer was into a more dangerous kind of belting.

"My drinking was getting out of hand," he says. Fred has been sober for the last 15 years, for which he credits the person he proudly calls "the moderating force of my life." Kathy Radmer assumed that role the first time Fred came to see her at her West Allis home, and stole a car to do it.

"I did a lot of dumb things when I was younger," he says.

"He didn't steal any more cars after he met me," says Kathy. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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