LIMA — On March 8, 2003, Lima boxer Aaron McLaurine stepped into the ring before a crowd of 500 at Lima’s UAW Hall.
“The music was blasting against the walls as the fans were chanting ‘A-RON,’” the Lima News wrote on March 10, 2003. “Lima’s Aaron McLaurine, dressed in a blue robe with a red championship belt around his waist, calmly entered amidst the din. Minutes later, McLaurine was methodically taking apart Tim Bowe. … In an impressive performance, he dominated nearly every round, throwing and landing an almost Rocky-like amount of punches each round. He did everything but knock Bowe to the canvas.”
McLaurine, who successfully defended his Great Lakes Boxing Federation Super Middleweight title that night, walked into the ring in the footsteps of a long line of Lima fighters. In the early days, while the fighters were generally admired, the sport was not — at least by local authorities.
On Aug. 18, 1893, 110 years before McLaurine and Bowe squared off, two Lima fighters stepped into a ring in the basement of William Hohl’s saloon on South Main Street. The Lima Times-Democrat the following day wasted no time getting to its opinion of that fight.
“A Disgraceful Affair,” the newspaper proclaimed in its headline, going on to explain that the bout “was arranged for a knockout and an admission fee of 15 cents was charged. A good-sized crowd of men and boys were present, and the fight was started.”
The match, however, was soon stopped after some “pretty lively fighting,” a near mob attack on the referee after a disputed call and a false report that “the cops is comin’,” after which, according to the newspaper, “a mad rush was made for the rear door of the room” by men who “were ashamed to be caught in such business …”
Prize fights in Lima, and much of the country, were generally considered “disgraceful” affairs in the late 19th and early 20th century. Local statutes either banned them outright or made them difficult to stage as officials agonized over whether an event was a prize fight involving prize money or the more palatable boxing exhibition, where combatants battered each other senseless for free.
On Labor Day 1915, a large crowd gathered for a fight at the Murphy Street ball park was dispersed by the local militia after Allen County Sheriff Sherman Eley deemed the fight landed on the wrong side of statutes. The affair eventually drew in Ohio Gov. Frank Willis, who told the Lima Daily News on Sept. 8, 1915, that while he “gave the sheriff no orders” to call out the militia, the sheriff was acting within the law.
By the 1920s local professional boxing was out of the basement, on the right side of the law and wildly popular. In the middle decades of the 20th century — when seemingly half of all boxers were nicknamed “Kid” — local fighters drew avid followings. Lima boxer Rufus Brassell, who was trained by Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, rose to an eighth-place ranking among heavyweights and fought Ali, Jerry Quarry and George Foreman before retiring in 1978. Brassell, who died in 2004 at the age of 60, devoted time to helping others, mentoring and running youth programs.
Brassell, The Lima News wrote Feb. 7, 2004, “made his biggest impression locally by coaching, inspiring and being in the corner for two generations of Lima children. Brassell, who once was ranked in the top 10 of national heavyweights, spent the majority of his time after his retirement helping train Lima’s up-and-comers.”
One of those up-and-comers was McLaurine, who, while not attaining the boxing prominence of Brassell, has rivaled him when it comes to helping others through boxing.
He was born April 16, 1971, in Lima to Mr. and Mrs. M.C. McLaurine and was graduated from Lima Senior High School. “McLaurine started boxing when he was in elementary school,” the News wrote Oct. 29, 2011. “His big brother would take him outside and throw punches that the then third-grader would block. As he aged, he started going to the Spyder Boxing Club and eventually found his way to the boxing club run by Gary Akers.” Akers, a former boxer who had been a Lima-area trainer since the 1940s, died at the age of 88 in June 1998.
McLaurine, whose nickname was “Showtime,” fought his first professional bout against Corey Johnson. He lost by a technical knockout. On Feb. 17, 1995, McLaurine, then 24, was stopped in the ninth round by Roger Mayweather for the International Boxing Organization welterweight title in a fight in Las Vegas. Mayweather is the uncle of Floyd Mayweather and a former two-weight champion.
Ten months later, on Dec. 12, 1996, McLaurine lost to unbeaten Manny Sobral in a fight for the IBO World Super Welterweight title in Vancouver, B.C.
While continuing his boxing career, McLaurine also continued his academic career, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering technology from Bowling Green to go with a two-year technical degree in electronic engineering from Lima Technical College (now Rhodes State University).
The elusive title came on Dec. 12, 2002, when McLaurine defeated Toledo’s Darrie “Red Dog” Riley in a bout in Toledo.
Since retiring, McLaurine has passed his passion on to a new generation through his Soldiers of Honor Boxing program he operates out of his New Look Fitness Gym, 117 S. Union St.
“Every kid in the neighborhood wants to know how to fight. Every kid who has been bullied wants to know how to fight, protect themselves and build confidence,” he told the News on Jan. 28, 2017.
“Boxing not only keeps kids off the streets but it gives them goal to work toward,” the News wrote. “McLaurine also uses that time to teach children about life so they become productive members of society.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.