Boxing royalty: Don Lowrie has been involved in the boxing business for more than 60 years. Lowrie, who served as an unpaid advisor to Jermain Taylor during his championship bout last month in Las Vegas, operates a boxing gym at his home near Salem. Photo/Jared
His dream finally came true.
Jermain Taylor, an Arkansas native who began his boxing career as a scrawny 13-year-old boy, was crowned the middleweight champion of the world July 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
But if it weren't for a decision made by a Salem man in 1974, Taylor may not have been Arkansas' first boxing champion.
"I started the Arkansas Boxing Club in an old rundown YMCA building in 1974," said Don Lowrie. "After that people started calling me the 'grandfather' of Arkansas boxing. I woke boxing up in this state."
Lowrie never coached or trained Taylor, but the new champ began his boxing career at the Arkansas Boxing Club under the tutelage of boxing coach Ozell Nelson.
Lowrie still remembers the first day Nelson walked into his boxing gym.
"He had a nephew that thought he could box," Lowrie said. "The nephew stayed with it for awhile, but Ozell wouldn't go away."
Lowrie said he taught Nelson how to be a boxing coach.
Nelson took over operation of the Arkansas Boxing Club when Lowrie decided to move to Salem over a decade ago.
Although he didn't train Taylor, Lowrie said he served as an advisor. He watched Taylor win the title from inside the new champion's dressing room in Las Vegas.
"I could have sat at ringside, but at my age I get a little nervous around a bunch of people," the 75-year-old former boxer said.
Lowrie said Nelson and Taylor's other trainer, Pat Burns, made several mistakes in preparing him for his world title bout. He said the biggest mistake they made was overtraining Taylor.
"They had him running like six miles every day in the Nevada heat and sparring for something like 12 rounds," Lowrie said. "No wonder he ran out of gas. He overtrained for the fight."
As an advisor, Lowrie said he encouraged Nelson to develop Taylor's menacing left jab.
"When he (Taylor) was young he would reach too much," Lowrie said. "I told him and Ozell that he needed to learn to jab and keep his body behind his knees."
Lowrie said he has been present at most of Taylor's professional bouts including those at Alltel Arena in Little Rock and in Los Angelas.
He said Taylor fits the classic mold of a boxer.
"If you give me a kid who doesn't have a daddy and has been knocked around a bit and is street tough, I can make him into a boxer," Lowrie said.
When Taylor was 5 his father abandoned him, his mother, Carlios Reynolds, and three sisters.
According to published reports, Taylor had a growing reputation as a street thug before Nelson started coaching him.
"Ozell saved that boy from a life on the streets," Lowrie said.
Taylor's tribulations went beyond the streets and the boxing ring. In 1998 Taylor's grandmother was shot and killed by her own son over drugs.
That same year Taylor won a bronze medal at the GoodWill Games. He placed the medal inside his grandmother's coffin at her funeral.
Lowrie said he understands the adversity Taylor has faced growing up. He said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., in the 1940s.
"I got beat up on the way to school all the time," Lowrie said. "I saw a movie with my dad about a boxer and I thought to myself fighting one guy would be easy."
Lowrie said his first bout in 1945 wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.
"That guy beat the sh.. out of me," Lowrie said. "I knew I'd have to learn how to box."
After his mother died in 1948, Lowrie moved to LePanto, Ark.
That same year he joined the Air Force where he continued to box. He said he won Golden Gloves titles in 1950 and 1951 while stationed in Las Vegas.
Lowrie's boxing career nearly ended during a tour of duty in Korea.
"I stopped at an armory kitchen to get a cup of coffee and then I went blank," he said. "When I came to I was in the field hospital all blowed up."
Lowrie said the military isn't sure what happened at the kitchen but it was likely an enemy artillery shell hit it.
Despite his injuries, Lowrie recovered and continued to box throughout the 1950s. After winning a Golden Gloves title in 1958, promoter Angelo Dundee asked him if he wanted to turn professional, Lowrie said.
Dundee, who would later promote fighters such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali, promoted eight pro fights for Lowrie, he said.
In his eighth professional fight Lowrie lost the bout and broke his left hand. That's when he turned to coaching.
Lowrie continued to serve in the Air Force until the Vietnam War. After serving one tour of duty in his second war, he retired from the military. Not long after his retirement Lowrie divorced his wife and moved to Little Rock.
While in Little Rock, Lowrie has coached many talented boxers. He said the most talented boxer he ever coached was middleweight Fred Jackson.
"He killed other 15-year-olds when he stepped into the ring with them," Lowrie said. "He was ranked as high as number three in his division by the American Amateur Boxing Association, but in national tournaments he always got robbed."
He said Jackson had the talent to turn pro but his career ended when he robbed a bank and went to prison.
Lowrie said he has trained several boxers who were ranked as amateurs, one of whom was from Horseshoe Bend.
He said Jason Campos was the most talented boxer he has coached from this area.
"He didn't have much talent but a lot of determination," Lowrie said. "You could hit him and he was just too stubborn to stay down."
Campos is now in the Marines.
Among all the boxers he's seen in Arkansas, Lowrie said Taylor is the second best. He said Ozell Nelson has a 19-year-old nephew, Jonas Nelson, who is more naturally gifted than the world middleweight champ.
How long will Lowrie stay in the boxing game?
"Until I die," said Lowrie who suffered from a stroke four years ago. "I want to die at ringside."