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Bowers built Hall of Fame boxing career as fighter, official

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 28, 2020 at 11:00 PM

Arthur “Deacon” Bowers was a knockout artist as a heavyweight, but his winning decisions as an official defined a Hall of Fame boxing career.

Bowers, a lifetime Stoney Creek resident and part of the inaugural class of the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame, won back-to-back Southern Golden Gloves heavyweight championships in 1958-59.

Under the tutelage of coach Don Marshall, he compiled an amateur record of 58 wins (51 by knockout) and two losses before turning his attention to officiating.

“Don was my neighbor in Hunter and he talked me into starting boxing,” Bowers said. “Everything I’ve accomplished in boxing, I give it to Don Marshall. He made me who I was, along with Cob Riddle, Kenny Perry, Wayne Pierce and all those boys.”

Standing 6-foot and weighing 202 pounds in his prime, Bowers reached the quarterfinals of the 1959 National Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago.

Later that year, he was scheduled to fight national champion Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, in a fight at Elizabethton’s Brown-Childress Stadium before Clay had to pull out because of illness.

Both men were noted for their sense of humor, and the 84-year-old Bowers joked about how he’s stayed in such good shape.

“I’ve always been living a good life. That’s why they called me ‘Deacon,’ ” he said with a laugh.

The nickname actually arose from tragedy. His father was a deacon in the local church, and the nickname was given to Arthur’s older brother Paul. When his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, the nickname “Little Deacon” was bestowed upon him and later became “Deacon.”

SOUTHERN CHAMPION

Bowers recalls the tough workouts under Marshall, who built a powerhouse of Upper East Tennessee fighters and later was the trainer for world heavyweight champion “Big” John Tate of Knoxville.

The fighters in Bowers’ day would often run 5 to 6 miles, leapfrog back to the gym and then spar for 10 to 15 rounds. Bowers was often given 16-ounce gloves, which were more for learning to dodge punches than throw them.

Bowers already had plenty of power with his best punch, the overhand right.

Tom Powell, a writer for The Tennessean, described Bowers’ 1959 championship fight with Hester Gibbs this way.

“Murfreesboro’s Hester Gibbs forgot his umbrella and ran into a thunderstorm. Upper East’s Deacon Bowers was preparing to place Hester in a praying position when referee Barry Sutton stopped the bout after 44 seconds of the first round.”

Bowers was one of four Upper East Tennessee fighters to win Southern titles, joining Jackie Bettis at 112 pounds, Jackie Range at 118 pounds and J.D. Estep at 160 pounds.

OFFICIAL BUSINESS

Bowers, a 1984 inductee into the Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia (TAG) Boxing Hall of Fame, served as a boxing official from 1960-99.

Besides his amateur status, he was a professional referee with the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Federation.

The national amateur tournaments provided him with many great memories, including interactions with future world heavyweight champions Evander

Holyfield and Mike Tyson.

Bowers said he wasn’t totally shocked when Tyson bit off a piece of Holyfield’s ear and was disqualified in their second world title fight. He saw a similar action when Tyson was an amateur.

“I was refereeing his fight in Chicago one time,” Bowers said. “The boy Mike was fighting would holler, ‘Hey, ref, he’s biting me.’ I would see him when he wouldn’t see me looking, he would bite that boy’s shoulder to mess him up.

“I threatened to stop the fight. I took him over to the corner and told Cus (D’Amato) and them, ‘If he does that one more time, he’s out of here. I’m going to throw him out.’ Tyson was like, ‘OK, referee, I won’t do it no more.’ He went on and we finished the fight.”

MR. PRESIDENT

Bowers served two terms as president of the National Organization of Golden Gloves Officials of America. He was inducted into the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame in 1999 along with former middleweight world champion Gene Fullmer and former welterweight champion Carmen Basillo.

The only Tennessean to serve as the organization’s president, Bowers was thrilled to be inducted with Fullmer and Basillo. Fullmer won two of four fights and had a draw in another against Sugar Ray Robinson, Bowers’ all-time favorite fighter.

As for the heavyweights, Bowers grew up a Rocky Marciano fan and liked how he went toe to toe in the ring.

FIGHTING DAYS AND BEYOND

Bowers perfected the 1-2 combination using his left jab or at times feinting with it to set up the overhand right.

He said the hardest punch he ever received came from a local fighter.

“Wayne Pierce, a middleweight from Stoney Creek, hit me with a left hook in sparring,” Bowers said. “He was coming with the left hook and I went right into it with my head. It didn’t knock me out, but it made me quit.

“Don patted me on the back and said, ‘What’s wrong Deacon?’ I was like, ‘I’m lucky to be standing up.’ He laid one on me. Wayne Pierce could hit.”

Bowers remains grateful for all the sport of boxing has given him. To be a hall of fame official, Bowers said there’s one thing a referee must keep in mind.

“The main thing a referee must remember is to protect both fighters at all times,” he said. “There’s some times you have to give a fighter the standing 8 count and a chance to clear his head. If a referee has to wait until the corner throws the towel in, he’s late. You have to know what you’re doing in there because it might save a fighter’s life.”

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