April 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview - Tony Thompson: "I was ready to hang ‘em up"

Thompson upsets Price
Boxing is a sport unlike any other, a microcosm of life's struggles that anyone can relate to. Even the gifted are given no breaks, and second chances are tough to come by. This is the harsh reality that hits home for many in and out of the sport of boxing, especially for heavyweight contender Tony “The Tiger” Thompson who scratched and clawed his way to the top for years, never earning the respect of the European dominated heavyweight division, or even stateside in his own country. Two knockout losses to defending World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko (in 2008 and 2012) were enough for him to be written off as old and boring - another American heavyweight failure.

None of these labels may be true, but perception is reality in and out of the ring. When Thompson recently signed on to fight 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist and highly touted British prospect David Price, the result was seen as a formality for nearly everyone not affiliated with the Thompson camp. But with one crisp combination, the undefeated future fell and the past finally rose, sitting now on the cusp of a career resurrection and unrivaled praise. But more valuable than the money earned (he earned very little against Price) and the glory (Thompson’s 2nd round TKO victory will be tough to top as Upset of the Year) is the satisfaction of proving the naysayers wrong and achieving one last hurrah or a world title.

At age 41, Tony Thompson is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But, in a way, his upset win is a new beginning. With a rematch against Price being proposed for July 6 by promoter Frank Maloney and a host of opponents waiting to capitalize on his new found fame, Tony Thompson can see the path to a title through Vitali Klitschko or Alexander Povetkin clearly crystallized for the first time. Thompson may never boast the elusive Heavyweight Championship of the World, but it certainly won’t be for lack of effort, achievement, or chances—showing that even in the sport of boxing, tigers really do have nine lives.

KO Digest: At this point, most boxing fans have been aware of your fighting career for several years now. Tell us about the life of Tony “The Tiger” before boxing in Washington D.C and how you got started in boxing. 

Bowe knows boxing and so does Thompson
Tony Thompson: I’m just a guy trying to make a living for his family. I got sidetracked from what I wanted to do early on in life, and I turned to boxing. I never really drank or smoked, I always took care of my body and was always a guy who liked to work out. I was working out with my brother one day and I saw Riddick Bowe and I started comparing our size. At the time, Riddick Bowe was the heavyweight champion, and I said, “you know, I’m bigger than the champ! I think I could take him!” I started off in a couple of gyms but it didn’t work out because I didn’t have a car and couldn’t be consistent, so I moved to a spot I could be more consistent. I got with a great amateur coach, Tom Brown, and the rest is history.

KOD: Washington D.C is a town with plenty of boxing history, with multiple fighters of note rising to power from there. Did hailing from D.C help your career get off the ground? 

TT: I’m not really sure. It couldn’t hurt—D.C. is a hotbed for boxing with a lot of great champions in the past and more coming and in the present. I don’t think we get the credit as other fight towns such as Detroit and New York, but I think we compare favorably with any town in terms of fighting.

KOD: Is fighting overseas in a different time zone a difficult obstacle for a fighter to overcome?

TT: Most definitely, that’s why they tell you to come over there instead of fighting over here. Obviously you want all the advantages you can get in boxing, and they bring you over there five or six days before the fight, which is not enough time to acclimate your body. Obviously it’s a tough thing to do, but as a professional, you need to deal with those things.

KOD: How long and regimented was training in Liverpool in the days leading up to the fight?

Tiger Training
TT: We left about five or six days before the fight, and only trained for two days. But we didn’t really train, we just went over the game plan and practiced that a little bit. All the training had been done. It was more important to get some rest and heal your body up as much as you can.

KOD: You’ve had a long career in boxing, but there’s as much attention around you as ever before thanks to your stunning knockout victory over undefeated British prospect David Price. Tell us about how the fight unfolded from your perspective. 

TT: It got off to a rocky start in terms of negotiations—they didn’t pay me peanuts. Everybody thought I took the fight for a payday, but that just absolutely wasn’t true. I took the fight for opportunity. I knew the guy who I think is going to be a world champion one day, but at this moment in his career, I just thought he was very green and just was not ready for a guy like me. We worked on a combination that I thought was perfect for him, and it just happened to be the combination that knocked him out.

KOD: In the lead up to the fight, fans and experts nearly unanimously counted you out and figured Price was an easy favorite. Did you honestly believe that you would emerge the winner in preparation for the fight? Are you as shocked by the outcome as we are? 

TT: No, I’m not shocked because I’m still a 6’5 260 pound southpaw. I’ve got 25 knockouts, so I don’t know why that shocks anybody. It doesn’t shock us. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a tough, grueling fight, but I thought I was going to emerge victorious because we had a plan. It shows that we had a plan, because that plan worked to perfection earlier rather than later.

KOD: In the moments leading up to the knockout, was everything going according to plan?

Thompson works his game plan against Price
TT: Definitely. I backpedaled in the first round. I thought he was going to come out ultra-aggressive, but he didn’t do that so much. I think in the first round, I gave him confidence by not being ultra-aggressive myself, staying patient, and giving him a false sense of security with the punches he threw because none of them landed. The right hands he threw I caught easily, and the flurry he threw I rolled all of those punches. It worked perfectly because in the second round, you could tell he was itching to get to the big knockout in front of his home fans and make the world announcing statement that David Price was on the world stage. He started coming forward, he got real impatient, and he got extra-aggressive, which we needed him to do to implement our plan.

KOD: The ending was quick and decisive. What emotions were rushing through your head at the time of the stoppage and in the moments after? Did it take a while for the thrill of victory to thoroughly sink in?  

TT: Hell no! I went crazy! Like you said, everybody wrote me off before the fight. Nobody gave me a chance except for a few loyal Tony “The Tiger” Thompson fans—they were over there waiting for the victory. But I don’t hold it against anybody. I’m a 41 year old man, I’m fighting a young, strong 29 year old medalist in the Olympics, and it looked bleak for me. My team believed in me. We knew what we needed to do. It didn’t bother us that everyone picked against us.

KOD: There’s no five run homerun in baseball or nine point touchdown in football. Boxing is the only sport that an athlete can come from behind with one motion, regardless of the odds and the way the match has unfolded. Would you consider the combination that landed on Price a little bit “lucky?

TT: You make your own luck in boxing. I did exactly what we worked on, and my coach will tell you that. We went over it in the dressing room, and before that, when we were practicing in Liverpool. It’s the underneath and it's the right hook. It wasn’t a lucky punch, but it was a punch that we wanted to throw and we threw it.

The Tiger turns the young lion into a wet noodle
KOD: You were only in the ring with Price for approximately five minutes, but from what you’ve seen of him both on film and in the ring, how do you think he stack up against other fighters you have faced? How bright is his future? 

TT: Well, I honestly believe he can use this defeat and come back and be heavyweight champion of the world. He has everything a fighter needs. He has size, strength, and speed. Once he gets the knowledge of the game a little better, he’ll be one of those young lions in the future.

KOD: Now that your stock has been restored for the time being, who are you seeking to fight next? 

TT: I’m trying to fight a lot of people. Anyone who can get me closer to a title fight against Vitali or Povetkin. I’ve got a lot of people in mind, but I really want that Tyson Fury. He’s been running his little pussy mouth. He really hasn’t beaten anyone of my caliber, so I don’t know what gives him the thought that he’s even on my level. But I have to think about going up to a fight with him and Steve Cunningham and challenging him. He said he wanted to fight me, said I would be an easy test, well let’s get it on!

Steve Cunningham thinks Fury has a big mouth too
KOD: If Steve Cunningham was to defeat Tyson Fury on April 20 at MSG in NYC, would you have any interest in fighting against Steve instead of Fury?

TT: No, not really, unless Steve has some type of high ranking that I needed to get to for a fight with Vitali or Povetkin in a mandatory scrap.

KOD: In the lead-up to the second Wladimir Klitschko matchup and even more recently, many detractors called you a boring fighter with a weak recent résumé and a boring boxing style. How do you respond to those caustic criticisms and convince them that you deserve big fights?

TT: Well, I don’t know if I have a weak résumé. At some points I do have a bit of a boring boxing style, but it works for me though. You have to stay within who you are. I know it looks boring, but it’s been very effective for 37 of my 40 fights. People have to remember that my only loss is to Wladimir Klitschko. That’s not a sneeze in the bucket, because he’s one of the all-time greats. In the first fight, I gave that man everything he could handle, probably more than he has in the last ten years, and I think everyone would agree with that, so I don’t know how they can say my résumé is any weaker than Tyson Fury’s or David Price’s, or any other guys out there. Coming up, I wanted to fight everybody, but nobody wanted to fight a 6’5” 250 pound southpaw. It wasn’t me.

KOD: Dating back to the year 2000, in your third career fight against Eric Kirkland, you’ve defeated every combatant you’ve faced not named Wladimir Klitschko. Do you feel as though you deserve more respect for your accomplishments in the division over the course of the last decade? 

TT: I think I deserve more respect. It’s not something I go around pondering or worrying about, it just is what it is. All that history tells a story, sometimes you don’t appreciate it until people get to sit back and review your whole career, the same way they did with George Foreman, although I’m not comparing myself to George Foreman. Nobody really appreciated him until his second go around, when they had a chance to sit back and appreciate who George was. Maybe that will happen for me.

Thompson is not pretty but he is effective
KOD: Why do you think you don’t get that respect? 

TT: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the "2000 Larry Holmes body," maybe it’s the boring left hand, defensive first style, or maybe it’s a face for radio. I don’t know! Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t really get out there and promote myself as much as some other guys do, but who knows and who cares? I have a great life and a great family, and that’s all that matters to me.

KOD: For the time being, David Price has been knocked down the ladder in the heavyweight rankings. At the summit, the Klitschkos are dominating and running out of reasonable competition. What’s your take on the current state of the heavyweights? 

TT: I love this current state of the heavyweight division. Just speaking as a fan—take me out of the equation— we have the David Price's and the Tyson Fury's. We have Deontay Wilder. We have Bryant Jennings. We have Seth Mitchell, even though people wrote him off after one loss but that’s just ludicrous because the guy can fight, he's dedicated to the sport. We have a lot of heavyweight talent. Those guys are going to clash in the very near future and it’s going to make for a great division.

KOD: At this point, it’s been over a decade since an American has possessed the heavyweight crown. What about the future of the division, particularly in regards to heavyweights in the United States of America? 

TT: We have a lot of up and coming guys. Wilder, Mitchell, Jennings, and we have a guy Danny Kelly in our gym who I think will be heavyweight champ even though nobody knows about him yet. I think he’s the second coming of Mike Tyson, and I can’t wait until he’s up there and ready to challenge some of those top guys. I love the state of the American heavyweights.

KOD: Your last title shot came against Wladimir Klitschko, the second time you squared off with the illustrious champion. In the second meeting, you looked devoid of enthusiasm and energy and got dominated as early as the opening bell. What is it about Wladimir Klitschko that throws fighters off of their game plans?   

Thompson falls again to Wladimir Klitschko
TT: It wasn’t Wladimir that necessarily threw me off. I didn’t have the energy and I worried about getting my weight down instead of being strong like I did in the David Price fight. My late, great trainer Tom Brown always told me “you fight better when you’re heavy, you have more energy and you have more strength.” That was proven. I was coming off a year that I had a lot of injuries and still deal with a lot of injuries, but in the end, I just stopped worrying about what my body looked like and what my body felt like instead.

KOD: In February of 2007, you faced Timur Ibragimov at the Playboy Mansion. As a veteran of the sport, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in some interesting places and circumstances, but how unique was that experience? That’s not a place many fighters can say they’ve ever fought! 

TT: That’s very true. From the onset that’s something I enjoyed but didn’t really get a chance to take advantage of because I was disgusted with my performance in the ring and not having my boxing shoes. Somebody stole them and we didn’t have time to get new ones, so we did what we had to do. I put on one of the producer’s tennis shoes and kicked butt. He was the only man in the house with shoes bigger than mine, a size 15, so we grabbed them up off of him and used those. It didn’t allow for me to really take advantage of the fight being in an iconic place surrounded by an iconic man, Hugh Hefner, one of my idols! (Thompson laughs) I came there to do a job and focused on my job, and wasn’t really in the mood to do any celebrating or meet anybody. Hugh Hefner wanted to meet me, but I was already on the bus back to my hotel and just wanted to think about my performance.

KOD: You turned 41 last year. Do you feel as old as the birth certificate indicates, or do you feel like a young fighter?

TT: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You can’t be 41 without sometimes feeling the effects of being 41, but I’m not beat up boxing wise. It’s just the fact that I have dealt with some injuries at times, not necessarily anything to do with boxing. My knee injury has affected me throughout my life. It’s not so much anything to do with boxing, it’s just that my body has caught up to me a little bit and has given me a new type of urgency to put an exclamation point on my career now. I promised my wife that my next loss is my last fight, and that’s given me a new urgency to go out there and kick ass. Everybody was counting me out in the Price fight, and I told her that I wasn’t going out there to fight for money, I was doing it to beat this guy and because I had an opportunity to go further. But if that wasn’t the case, I was ready to hang ‘em up.

KOD: If you lost to one of the top fighters in the heavyweight division, would you hold that to a different standard and keep on fighting off of the David Price momentum? 

TT: It depends what type of opportunity you’re talking about. If I lose to one of the rising stars, I probably won’t get a championship fight unless he has a grudge against me or thinks I’m an easy touch. So there’s no real sense in continuing to fight because I would have to go back to that David Price level for David Price money and I’m not willing to do that again.

KOD: You seem to live a largely private life, but do you have any family looking out for your best interests and supporting your career in and out of the ropes?   

Go Hard or Go Home
TT: Most definitely, my wife and my whole family. Everybody has my best interest. We’re a tight knit family. We’ve been through our ups and downs, but you’d never be able to tell with our family because we always stand beside each other and support each other. My wife, who is now my current manager, is by me even more now that she has a responsibility managing the latter part of my career. 

KOD: If any of your children wanted to take up boxing, would be enthusiastic about that decision and support them? 

TT: Hell no, stay away from it! Obviously if they want to box and they need a means to take care of their family, I would support them then, but right now I have very bright, talented children, and boxing is the last thing I would want from them. 

KOD: What does the future hold for you once your time inside the ropes has passed? 

TT: I’m going to be a family man. I have three young kids and I just want to watch them grow. They have aspirations of being some kind of athlete, and I just want to be a father that’s around them all the time and supporting their endeavors.   
The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli