If you are a boxing fan from my neck of the woods, you know the story. It’s the one about a blue collar boxing trainer who spends his days paving and sealing driveways before heading to his gritty boxing gym located on Market Street in Youngstown, Ohio. And then one day in walks the right kid. The full-time paver, and part-time trainer, sees something special in the tall and gangly youngster from the south side. The Rust Belt duo work their way up the boxing ranks the old fashion way, revitalizing the legacy of a once proud fight town. It’s the story of former WBC and WBO Middleweight Champion of the World Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik and the 2007 Boxing Trainer of the Year Jack Loew. In anticipation for the release of “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym,” we kick off 2018 by checking in with one of the Steel Valley’s favorite working-class heroes.
My book is as much about place as much as it is people. Cowen, West Virginia is a rough and tough coal mining town with it’s own unique set of obstacles for area youth. Take us to Youngstown, Ohio. What makes Youngstown a fight city? What is it about the place that makes the people so tough?
JL: Youngstown has had five well-known World Champions. Greg Richardson. Harry Arroyo. Ray Mancini. Jeff Lampkin. Kelly Pavlik. As far as the toughness, it’s the way we were raised. It’s a steel town. Our grandfather’s worked the mills day in and day out. They passed those values down to their kids. For this new generation, it’s “stay in school.” But, for our fathers and grandfathers it was “go to work.” When you’re from a place like Youngstown, the toughness gets passed down.
It’s interesting that you mention generational attitudes toward education. My father was from an era where very few young men were encouraged to attend college. Despite being the first in my family to attend college, I did grow up knowing that it was something my father wanted for me. You think attitudes toward education have changed in the region?
JL: Your story. That’s great. And, yes I do think things have changed. It’s because of the economy. My son was the first in our family to go off to college. He’s a regional manager for a medical company. We’re proud of him. He’s doing well for himself.
I stubbornly followed my father into the sport of boxing but it didn’t take long for me to realize that college was a much better life choice. Did your son have boxing ambitions?
JL: He had some amateur fights. 10 fights. Did the Toughman thing. He was good but I told him that you’ve gotta be in the top 3% of the boxing world to actually make decent money in the sport of boxing. You’ve got to be honest with yourself. If you aren’t in that top 3%, you have to eventually give the game up.
It seems to me that boxing can teach a number of positive character traits that easily transfer other aspects of life. Do you agree?
JL: Discipline. Boxing teaches discipline. We have fun down at the gym. Don’t get me wrong. But life is about learning how to win and how to lose. That’s what life is about. Boxing teaches discipline and how to follow rules. I think that is a big part of what is wrong with the world today. A lot of young people don’t’ know how to follow rules. And, some young people don’t know how to pick themselves back up after a loss. I tell kids, “If you act like an asshole while I’m in the corner with you … it’ll be the last time I’m in the corner with you.” In life you have to be able to handle loss. I’ve won and lost at the highest level of boxing. I’ve lost at Cesar’s Place in front of a sold out PPV crowd. I tell these amateur fighters, “don’t you try to complain about a loss to me.”
Tell us the story of how the Southside Boxing Club came to be. What was your initial vision for the gym?
JL: Boxing stared as a hobby for me. I grew up loving boxing. I worked with Harry Arroyo, who worked with Boom Boom Mancini, and that’s how I got in the game. After I was done fighting, I moved on to training amateurs. Some of the trainers in the area got older and I eventually took over. The gym itself opened back in 1989. It wasn’t nothing fancy or glamorous. Even when Kelly Pavlik was training here, it wasn’t nothing fancy.
Can you describe some of the major obstacles and frustrations that boxing trainers endure in working-class locations such as Youngstown? What are the major challenges?
JL: It comes down to a general lack of money. People don’t have money. It’s $61 a year for an amateur boxer to have a U.S.A. boxing passbook. Most of my fighters couldn’t afford to pay an actual membership fee. The $61 is all they have to pay in my gym. That’s it. Most of these kids come from extreme poverty. It’s like that for boxing coaches from all over the country. Most don’t’ charge gym dues. Most of these fighters are a product of their environment. And, as trainers, we have to deal with that. It can feel like babysitting. But we do it, year after year. We [trainers] love it. It some ways it’s like raising kids.
A few years back, my father had the chance to talk with Ray Mancini about what he meant, not only to Youngstown, but working-class town’s like Cowen, West Virginia. Kelly Pavilk, I think, was embraced by my home state in the same way. During your dramatic rise to the top of the Middleweight division, did you get the sense that you had the working-class in the region fans cheering you on?
JL: Without a doubt. West Virginia isn’t that much different. You guys have the coal mines. We have the steel mills. We are from working-class areas and whether it was Kelly’s amateur days or when he turned pro, we always had a working-class fan base. A lot of people who came out to those early shows didn’t have much money but they wanted to show support. They always came out and supported us. We had the working-class fans on our side.
Final question. Who will be the next world champion to emerge from Youngstown?
JL: Super Featherweight Alejandro “Popo” Salinas will be #6 for Youngstown.
Thank you for your time, Jack. West Virginia is cheering you on as well.
JL: Thank you. Much appreciated.
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