The Philadelphia Experiment

By Doug McKay Sep 11, 2013
Waylon Lowe has knocked out his last four opponents. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

Philadelphia can have an interesting effect on a man. Just ask Waylon Lowe.

Lowe will put his four-fight winning streak on the line when he meets Georgi Karakhanyan in a featherweight showcase at World Series of Fighting 5 on Saturday at the Revel Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. The main draw airs live on NBC Sports at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, while the prelims stream for free on at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT.

A decorated amateur wrestler, Lowe won three NCAA championships at the Div. II level. However, his transition to mixed martial arts was anything but seamless.

“Early in my career, I hated striking,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it, so I’d get pummeled, which probably had something to do with why [I hated it].”

In early 2010, Lowe left his small hometown in Jefferson City, Tenn., for boxing-centric Philadelphia, the land of Sonny Liston, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Frazier and Meldrick Taylor. Not coincidentally, his career in MMA took a turn for the better.

“I moved to Philly and saw there’s such a rich history in boxing,” Lowe said. “I started reading the books and studying the history. I’d never been exposed to that, so I started learning it, and I loved it.”

Thus began his transformation from a collegiate wrestling champion who despised striking to a mixed martial artist who has knocked out his last four opponents. It was quite leap for someone who had never boxed a day in his life.

“I grew up in rural Appalachia,” Lowe said. “I didn’t have boxing available to me.”

During his formative years, Lowe was an “extremely hyper” child who got kicked out of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades before his mother moved him to a school that had a wrestling program.

“Right away, I started getting good grades and getting disciplined, and wresting just took over my life,” he said. “It was the work ethic and the focus. I owe everything to wrestling.”

Photo: Andy Hemingway/

Karakhanyan is 21-3-1.
The commitment led Lowe to a state wrestling championship in high school before he moved on to the University of Findlay in Ohio. He was exposed to MMA after meeting 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Lindland invited him to workout at Team Quest, and Lowe later served as a wrestling coach for former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Rich Franklin in Cincinnati.

However, the discovery of his love for boxing turned around his MMA career. Lowe has even made an effort to engage in some professional boxing matches, though the crossover has proven to be a challenge.

“Everybody knows everybody in Philly,” Lowe said. “I’ve gotten on four different cards, and I’ve had my opponents drop out all four times. At first, I think people feel, ‘Oh, I’ll kill an MMA guy,’ but then people hear gym stories. They hear I can really box.”

As he approaches his second World Series of Fighting appearance, Lowe wants to maintain the momentum he has gathered during his current tear. Karakhanyan has a streak of his own working, having rattled off seven wins in a row.

“He’s a tough guy,” Lowe said, “and he fights hard.”

Lowe takes steps to limit outside distractions, keeping his life centered on fighting and family. However, there is more than a little blurring of the lines. His wife, Jamie Lowe, made her professional MMA debut in February, when she stopped Sumie Sakai on third-round punches at a Cage Fury Fighting Championships event.

“We don’t have cable TV or Internet,” Lowe said. “I’ve gone months without even turning on my phone. I’m just with my family and training. I’m very focused.”

Lowe credits his recent successes to his ability to train on a full-time basis. For most of his career, he worked a variety of farming and factory jobs.

“I only got to train a couple of days a week,” he said. “I could go at lunchtime and then I’d have to run back to work.”

His regimen changed with a 10-month stint in the UFC. Lowe compiled a 2-2 record inside the Octagon, with wins over Steve Lopez and Willamy Freire, but he was released following a submission loss to Nik Lentz at UFC Fight Night 24 in March 2011.

“When I went to the UFC, I saved every bit of my money,” he said, “so when I got cut I had money and I was really, really strict with it.”

That discipline -- a calling card ever since his wild middle school days -- carried him through his next few fights, until he signed with the World Series of Fighting. He debuted with the promotion in March, when he knocked out “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9 alum Cameron Dollar at WSOF 2. While the discipline and ability to train more frequently are major factors in Lowe’s rise, he does nothing to hide what really excites him.

“I love boxing,” he said in a tone one might expect from a kid about to visit Disneyland for the first time. “I’m in the boxing gym all the time. I go to all the gyms in Philly to spar. I really do love it. I’m a huge fan.”


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