For a guy who had just two amateur bouts and lost both of them, Thomas W. Lovgren’s impact on boxing in the State of Nebraska has been as great as that of the legendary Cornhusker fighters whose careers the Omaha ring historian has painstakingly researched and chronicled for over a half-century.
That can be documented by going on www.athcomm.state.ne.us, the website of the Nebraska Athletic Commission, which features a whole page on Lovgren along with numerous pages highlighting the great moments and figures in state boxing history whose biographies and photos were provided by the onetime Nebraska correspondent for The Ring magazine who still has the very first issue of “The Bible of Boxing” Lovgren bought in 1951 at Neary’s Drugstore in Sheldon, Iowa.
It was in the Sioux City Golden Gloves tournament five years later that he realized, as Lovgren later put it, that for him “to continue in (boxing) with any success it would have to be as anything other than a boxer.”
So he became a boxing writer, sending news about Nebraska boxing – Lovgren moved to Omaha in ’56 – to The Ring, and later started promoting fights in Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio. Tom, his wife Jeannine and their four sons were all involved in the promotions, and Lovgren says that “my family and I consider the years we spent promoting professional boxing as some of the most fun years of our entire adult life.”
In 1972, Lovgren helped promote the only world heavyweight title fight ever held in Omaha, between champion Joe Frazier and local hero Ron “The Bluffs Butcher” Stander. Frazier stopped the local hero in four rounds. The nationally-televised bout drew a live gate of $242,975 – more, Lovgren proudly points out, than 17 of Joe Louis’s heavyweight title defenses.
Even after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Lovgren kept plugging away until a dearth of local talent ended his promoting career about 20 years ago. Since then, he has concentrated on serving as a one-man clearinghouse for information on Nebraska fighters and ring lore.
With typical self-deprecation Lovgren, 67, calls himself “just a hack writer,” but he has authored lively and informative booklets on the careers of Stander and 1960s Omaha middleweight contenders and brothers Art and Ferd Hernandez.
Art Hernandez, who fought Sugar Ray Robinson, Nino Benvenuti and Emile Griffith, and in the 1970s briefly held the North American 160-pound title, was the best Nebraska fighter he ever saw, Lovgren says, and among the best in state boxing history.
Stander is second on Lovgren’s list of the best Cornhusker fighters he ever saw. “He backed away from no one and had no fear,” Lovgren wrote in his booklet about “The Bluffs Butcher.” “These qualities made him one of the most exciting local fighters ever to be seen in an Omaha boxing ring. There are 1,000 stories about Ron Stander, and some of them are even true. But he gave Omaha boxing fans thrills like no other fighter has in modern times, and when he hit an opponent with left hook on the button, it was all over.”
Lovgren writes and talks the way his friend Stander fought: straight-ahead, with no dancing around or mincing of words. The result is often stylish and artful in spite of him. “It is not that I am that busy, but among other projects I am working on is a Lovgren genealogy project that takes a lot of research,” he wrote to another boxing writer once to explain why he had not replied immediately to a request for information. “If you do not like this excuse, please let me know because I have two or three hundred excuses written down and I will be happy to send you another one.”
When the National Golden Gloves Tournament was held in Omaha last year, Lovgren reported that “it was a great event and nobody came,” and then stated perfectly the problem lots of people have with amateur boxing these days: “There were some great boxing matches, but I think the paying fan is tired of seeing referees act like traffic cops.”
While nothing will ever dim his love for boxing, every now and then Lovgren admits that it has been severely strained. “I will tell you something about fighters,” he says, “in the end they will all break your heart. I do not know why, but I can guarantee you that 99 percent of them will end up breaking your heart.”
For all that, whenever he finds out about a former Omaha boxer who’s down on his luck, Lovgren gets busy to help out, but always strictly behind the scenes. Last year he quietly spearheaded a drive that raised several thousand dollars for a needy ex-boxer, and when another writer heard about it Lovgren warned him, “I really do not want to read about this in any book, magazine or website.”
Although as a writer he prefers the typewriter, thanks largely to Jeannine he has made a game effort to keep up with modern technology. “This is my first real attempt to use our email,” Lovgren wrote to a friend a couple years ago, “so if you cannot understand it all you need to tell yourself is, ‘Well, the old man is not quite up to the newfangled things,’ and let it go at that.”
One of Lovgren’s best friends is George D. Blair, his peer as a boxing writer and historian who is to boxing in Minnesota what Lovgren is to the sport in Nebraska (Blair has written over 20 booklets about boxers from the North Star State). “Tom’s contributions to boxing are indispensable, and thanks to him the history of Nebraska boxing is available for anyone to enjoy,” he says.
All of this led in 2004 to Lovgren’s induction into the Great Plains Golden Gloves Hall of Fame, a development that left the habitually cantankerous and outspoken Lovgren at a rare loss for words.
“It was a big thing to me,” he admitted. “I really didn’t think I would ever make it. My personality doesn’t do much to make a lot of friends.”
If he were around today, Rocky Marciano would second that notion. After he won the heavyweight title in 1952, Marciano came to Sheldon, Iowa as guest referee on a local boxing card. Introduced to the champion of the world, the first words out of the 12-year-old Lovgren’s mouth were, “When are you gonna fight (Roland) LaStarza?”
Marciano somehow resisted the urge to obliterate the little twerp on the spot – yet another thing for which boxing is in the Brockton Blockbuster’s debt.