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Tony “The Tiger” Thompson: the Boxer Who Came in from the Old

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Fans always talk about how screwed up the heavyweights are. Our late old friend and historian Bert Sugar used to tell anyone and everyone who would listen that if you put the world’s top heavyweights in a police line-up, in full fight gear and title belt regalia, no one would know who they were. But that joke is old. Sure, Joe Frazier isn’t even approaching the building much walking through that door but there is more to boxing’s glamour division than meets the eye.
 
At the top are the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir (6’6” and the WBA, IBF and WBO champion) and Vitali (6’7” and the WBC champ). Then there is everyone else. These two men are so big and skilled in their own ways that they are starting to lap their weight class. But that shouldn’t be an indictment of the division. Tyson Fury, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin (who faces Wladimir in the fall), Robert Helenius, Magomed Abdusalamov, Chris Arreola, Bermane Stiverne and Bryant Jennings represent eight contenders who could all make for fan-friendly fights. Among the group, Arreola and Haye each have experience fighting a Klitschko having lost to Vitali and Wlad respectively. Everyone else is going to have to find out the hard way how this division sizes up.
 

There are two other names that should be on that list: Tony Thompson and David Price. Last Saturday, they finished off a two-fight set, likely serving as Price’s epitaph or his moment of truth. For Thompson, 41 years old and 38-3 (26), ranked number eight by the IBF (oddly enough, the only organization among boxing’s four alpha-belt gangs in which Thompson is ranked), the sky is the limit. Promotionally speaking, he’s a free agent. His wife, Sydney, is his manager/adviser. The Washington, D.C. native now lives just outside of D.C. in Fort Washington, where this writer found him Wednesday morning as he drove and spoke to me via loudspeaker.
 
As one fight person told me, Tony “the Tiger” Thompson is the last guy you want to rush your prospect against. He’s slick, patient and not afraid to wait for you to make a mistake. Above all, he’s experienced at the top level of the sport. Oh yeah, he’s also a 6’5” southpaw with good power and an 81½” reach. Sure, he got stopped by Wladimir Klitschko twice and about landed in the same position each time. But there’s the Klitschkos and then there’s everybody else. It can’t be said enough.
 
Regarding the three losses on Thompson’s ledger, the first was a points loss in just his fifth fight. The other two were stoppage losses to Wladimir. The first in 2008 (KO in 11). The second in 2012 (TKO in 6) just three fights ago. In between are wins over Dominick Guinn, Maurice Harris, Owen Beck, Luan Krasniqi, Timur Ibragimov. He’s fought Yanqui Diaz and Cliff Couser. Yeah, none of these guys are exactly world-beaters. Thompson helped prove that.
 
Heading off the second knockout loss of his career, Thompson was a 40-year-old heavyweight who maybe looked like he was done. That was what the world saw. What he saw was a guy only a loss removed from the top of the sport.
 
In February, Thompson traveled to England to face ESPN’s “Prospect of the Year” David Price, then 15-0 with 13 knockouts and no one of substance on his résumé. That’s a short trip from fights you are supposed to win to a fight near the top.
 
Thompson was subtle, absorbing shots early, moving patiently and observing Price. Then in the second round, with one short, chopping counter-right hook to the ear, Thompson sent Price down and the boxing world onto its head. Price would rise but his legs buckled and he wobbled like a newborn into referee Steve Gray’s arms as the fight was waved off.
 
On July 6, there again was Thompson in Liverpool’s Echo Arena. The crowd was crazy. All the expectations were on Price. After all, Thompson was 41. He’d been downed by Klitschko twice. Price (who had employed Lennox Lewis for about three weeks to help him be a better-fighting big man) should handle his business; right?
 
“We had a couple different game plans,” Thompson told me. “He’d been working with Lennox Lewis. We knew he’d be coming out a little bit different. We didn’t know how different because it was only three weeks working with Lennox. So we prepared in a few different ways. If he wants to stand there and box, we were going to do what we did. We was going to go get him. Pursue him, beat him up. Don’t give him time to think. If he wanted to be aggressive - which we didn’t think he was going to do since he was scared of the counters - we were prepared to counter. Also, we were prepared to box ourselves if we had to. So we had a multitude of things that we did. I am a multi-talented fighter and I am going to use my attributes.”
 
Early on, Thompson boxed. Price was tentative for sure. But in the second, things got crazy. Price started to find his rhythm a bit and began letting his hands go from a distance. So Thompson adjusted with nearly disastrous consequences. As Thompson advanced, a short right hand from Price caught him high on the head and sent him hard to the canvas. It’s the kind of unseen shot that puts most men out.
 
“I was trying to be aggressive. I seen he wanted to box a little bit, so I was trying to start out the aggressive game plan but I got a little sloppy,” said Thompson. “I was throwing a punch [and he caught me] with an inside right hand. He shortened it up and caught me on top of the head. I thought I was going away from the punch initially but I looked at it on replay and I was actually going into the punch. It was a good shot. It caught me in a real bad spot on top of my head, right on the spot where Klitschko knocked me out but I was able to recover. I was in great shape, man, and it showed because I was able to get up. I was able to recover - and not only recover; I started dominating the fight from then.”
 
Thompson showed his experience in getting up and finding his way out of the round.
 
“It’s just about having and getting your wits about you,” said Thompson. “Just stay down there [on the canvas]. That’s why I took so long to get up. Don’t rush up. I learned early in my career, you don’t jump up from a knockdown. [Get your mind cleared], get your feet up under you and then you rise slowly - and I did perfectly. I know a lot of people thought I might have gotten counted out but I heard the count. As you can see on the replay, my eyes were wide and clear. I got myself together and see where I was at.”
 
After the second, you could see Price breathing hard in his corner. His corner implored him to breathe deep but relaxation is hard to learn. It takes the kind of time Thompson has spent at this level. You could see Price recognizing his own level of fatigue. Thompson’s body shots didn’t help him either.
 
“I guess by the third round, I started coming on,” recalled Thompson. “It seemed like he wasn’t handling the situation well, being that he had knocked me down and expected to finish me. Once he wasn’t able to finish me, it kind of depleted him. And after the third round and into the middle of the fourth round, it just became very apparent to me. I hit him with some really good body shots and I think that really started draining him. So after the third round, right towards the middle of the fourth round, I felt him starting weakening and I knew my time would come.”
 
It certainly did. From the knockdown, it was a quick acceleration to finishing Price off. In the fourth, Price seemed like he was resting and regrouping. But by the fifth, it was apparent he was all done. Thompson began to flurry on him and opened up to a point where Price turned his back for a standing eight that became the end of the fight. Thompson was just too much for him. Better Price get saved for another, which Thompson believes he can have.
 
“A lot of people think [Price] is finished because they continue to not think much of me,” said Thompson, “but if you put me in my proper class, which is right below the champions…he didn’t lose to a guy who is [faded] journeyman or with a losing record or whatever. He lost to one of the top heavyweights in the world. So he can come back from that. Matter of fact, he is going to be one up on the other guys that are out there not fighting anybody. Like a Tyson Fury, he’s not fighting anybody. Guys like that. [Price] actually got championship experience in the long run. So I really think if he gets the experience off it, he can get nothing but better from there.”
 
The immediate future for Thompson is finding his way back to a title. In a field of everymen, that is entirely possible. At 41, Thompson, fresh off two impressive wins that showcased his power and veteran guile, finding the right fight might be tough. But he seems to be at ease with the way his campaign is rolling at the moment. For now, Thompson’s business will continue to involve chopping down the tree around the Klitschkos until he can get another title shot.
 
“Yeah. I am trying to get to everybody else so I can get back to the championship fight,” he said. “Right now, I am going to get a fight that is close to a championship fight. I am not trying to fight anymore young, up-and-coming guys. I already done that. I already dominated those guys. I proved that I [need] championship fights or I need eliminator fights.”
 
One fight that does interest him is the winner of the proposed David Haye vs. Tyson Fury fight.
 
“If I can’t get the championship fights, then yeah, the winner of David Haye-Tyson Fury because both of those guys are ranked high in organizations and they can lead to a championship fight. So obviously, I would fight a fight like that. I am not looking to fight anymore David Price-type level fights,” said Thompson.
 
Above all, he would like a fight with Vitali Klitschko. And the way Tony Thompson sees it, that just might happen. While the public might ask, “Why would we want a third fight with Wladimir or a fight with Vitali?” Thompson knows you get what you earn in the ring. As long as he keeps winning, no one can deny him.
 
“That’s been my game plan the whole time to try and get a fight with Vitali,” he said. “The public can want what they want but if nobody is out there that can keep me from getting back to a championship fight, it is what it is. The public can say what it is they want [but I keep winning and getting back in line]. I’ve been proving that. So as long as there is nobody out there that can beat me, (chuckles) I’m going to continue to get my title shot.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 

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