As he exited the ring and proceeded to the dressing room at the D.C Armory March 5th, longtime heavyweight contender Tony Thompson was in good spirits despite being knocked by Luis Ortiz in the sixth round. The hometown boy proclaimed to the ThaBoxingVoice’s Nestor Gibbs, “I’m still sexy”. That certainly is a unique take for someone who seconds later quasi-retired telling Gibbs “that’s probably it for me”.
The subsequent career path of a particular fighter can mark yardsticks in time in our memories as fight fans.
Growing up as a boxing fanatic as a young teen, I recall watching some heavyweight wars featuring names like Derrick Jefferson, David Izon, Obed Sullivan, Jeremy Williams, Joe Hipp, & Phil Jackson. I remember friends what friends I was with, what I was drinking, who I was dating, and sneakers I was rocking during that time period of those heavyweights.
As time passes, fewer and fewer people seem to know about the power in Jeremy Williams left hook, the lion-sized heart of David Izon, Derrick Jefferson, and Joe Hipp’s slugfest, on the Wide World of Sports with Tommy Morrison.
One day, ten or fifteen years from now, Tony Thompson will be memorialized in the same manner.
Thompson (40 – 7, 27 KO’s) first arrived on my radar in 2007, in a fight ironically held at the Playboy Mansion (those who know Thompson should understand said irony) against accomplished Uzbek amateur Timur Ibragimov. Heading into the televised clash, Thompson was an underdog and relatively unknown.
What I witnessed as the fight proceeded was eye opening. Although in his mid-thirties at the time, Thompson dominated, winning virtually every round, and certainly impressed the Playboy Bunnies sitting at ringside. Standing at a towering 6’5 with a long reach, and southpaw to boot, I made a mental note that this guy might have the physical tools to climb the ladder and eventually challenge a Klitschko brother for heavyweight supremacy.
But things never came easy for Thompson. As a child, with both parents out of the picture, Thompson was raised by his grandmother, who unfortunately passed during his early teen years.
At age 17, ready to join the armed forces with his best friend and brother Keith, Thompson gave birth to his first child, requiring Thompson to stay at home and work a variety of lower paying jobs to feed his family. Keith, ever supportive, would send all he earned in the military to help Tony make ends meet. Yet, it still wasn’t enough bread to support Thompson’s growing clan.
Tony started boxing way late, age 27 to be precise, putting in early morning gym hours before a full work day. Boxing was meant to be supplemental income except, for one thing, Tony was really good.
Having dealt with a lifetime of adversity in and out of the ring, Thompson earned an elimination title fight vs Luan Krasniqi in late 2007. Facing an opponent in his hometown, Thompson stopped Krasniqi to ensure his shot at eternal glory, a date with the great Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship in 2008.
For someone who had to grind his whole life and rely on others for support, Thompson was thrust into the opportunity to compete for the highest honor in all professional sport.
Traveling to Germany again in the summer of 2008, in a fight I envisioned a year earlier, Thompson won some rounds and put on a sturdy effort but was bested by Klitschko in the 11th. Instead of folding his cards, Thompson kept moving forward.
Wins over Chazz Witherspoon, Own Beck, & Maurice Harris put Thompson in again with Klitschko in 2012, and again Thompson was KO’d, this time in 6.
And did Thompson hang up the gloves after losing his second title shot? Of course not. Thompson continued on, and although catching a few losses, he defeated heavyweight contenders David Price and Odlanier Solis twice each.
Fast forward to 2016. Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz is taking the division by storm, and nobody wants to fight the southpaw wrecking ball. Golden Boy, Ortiz’s promoter has an HBO date for Ortiz but cannot find another heavyweight with enough chutzpah to fight him. Opponents drop out one by one. Until, finally, one heavyweight accepts the challenge, and that guy is…….Tony Thompson.
Seated ringside, I witnessed the shorter Ortiz hurling repetitive 1, 2’s at the veteran. I witnessed Thompson smiling as he slipped punches, circled Ortiz, and landed a few jabs and straights himself. Make no mistake, Thompson was not easy fodder as he might have appeared. In the sixth, Ortiz looped in a perfect left-right on the kisser and that was all she wrote.
From time to time, just like any boxing fan, I dig through the depths of Youtube to watch more obscure fights, like Izon – Jefferson or Morrsion – Hipp. Every time, I’m thrown into that time period and get a sense of comfort along with a taste of nostalgia. And one day, g-d willing, in a decade from now, I can dial up a Tony Thompson vs. David Price and remember the guy Tony was and his place in the sport.
(reference: “The Fight of His Life, Zach Berman, Washington Post, 2008)