In the 1970s, the Austin Boxing Club was a source of entertainment and interest for local sports fans.
As things progressed for the club, a local business owner and boxing fan, Orville Payne, turned an old repair garage into a gym, which he made available for the club.
The gym was on Fourth Street in Austin, and Orville put a lot of money into the place. Lonnie Johnson, manager of the club, built some bleachers, and before long, a ring was purchased and put in the center of the building, surrounded by the wooden bleachers. When it was finished, about 300 people could fit in there — barely.
Sundays were a big fight day, and I can remember going there on several occasions, watching some very entertaining fights. The atmosphere was always chaotic and exciting. The gym was always packed, and you could count on a thick fog of cigarette smoke hovering above the ring.
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Since there was very little parking, fight fans parked on the streets, in driveways without permission or wherever it looked like a car would fit.
In the gym, fights sometimes broke out in the bleachers while two boxers were fighting in the ring. As wild as the whole thing was, it was fun, exciting and entertaining, and it worked. After all, it was the ’70s, and that was the decade of anything goes.
Newspaper writers from Louisville and Indianapolis were regulars, and they really enjoyed their time at Austin, as they could count on a good show.
In one of the two photos attached to this story are two fighters in a corner. The boxer on the left is Donnie Richie, who was a crowd favorite. Donnie was fearless in the ring. With a quick jab and fast footwork, he was a tough fighter who knew how to win in the ring, where he won a lot. Donnie not only delivered a hard punch, but his hands were lightning fast.
In the other photo are two female fighters, and the referee was Austin barber Glenn Holland. Glenn also had a few fights in the ring and was very good himself.
I loved hanging out at the Fourth Street gym. It was a great place to work out and be around some very competitive people.
If I remember right, this is the time period when James Lonaker became involved in boxing. I remember him having some fights there, and he was pretty good. He also started bringing in some guys from Columbus that he was training.
Sometimes, when more space was needed, the fights would be held at the Austin High School gym. One time, the fights were held at the Scott County Fairgrounds, and one of the fighters on the card was Greg Page of Louisville, who later became the heavyweight champion of the world.
There were a lot of different boxers that fought in the Austin Boxing Club, and for all of those involved, I’m sure it remains a good memory.