by Johnny Walker
American heavyweight contender Tony “The Tiger” Thompson, who rematches world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko on July 7 in Bern, Switzerland, is a perceptive guy.
Thompson, 40, who gave Klitschko arguably the toughest test of his current 15-fight winning streak back in 2008 before getting stopped in the 11th round, realizes that many American fight fans have become jaded about the possibility of any current American contender defeating Wlad or his equally dominant brother, WBC champion Vitali.
And they don’t have much faith in an older version of Thompson being able to do what he couldn’t manage against Wlad four years back.
When Boxing Insider recently spoke to the affable heavyweight, Thompson sounded both aware of the situation he faces, and determined to prove the doubters wrong.
“There is no answer,” Thompson (36-2-0, 24 KOs) said of his reaction to the cynicism of American boxing fans regarding the rematch with Wlad.
Then he adjusted that reply a bit.
“There is one answer, and that answer is to win. If I win the heavyweight championship of the world, what else can you say about me? You might think bad thoughts, but you wouldn’t dare say, you wouldn’t be able to repeat those remarks if I’m heavyweight champion of the world – I have proved my point then.”
Thompson feels with some justification that American boxing fans had become spoiled, too used to owning the glamor division of boxing through the years from Marciano to Ali to Tyson, more recently deciding to take their boxing gloves and go home when the rest of the world began to take over.
“I think it’s American arrogance actually,” Thompson opines.
“I just think that we’re so used to dominating the heavy part of the sport, that we just found reasons to, you know, put the contenders down, and not give the Klitschkos’ full credit.
“Those are great champions and they are proving their worth, but by the same token, you don’t downplay the challengers that’s come along … well some of them you can, some of the guys have not put any effort towards winning, but I’m not one of those guys,” Thompson says firmly.
“I am putting whatever I have—I might not be an all-time great, everybody knows that I walked in off the street 27 years old for the first time, and I put on boxing gloves and I think I’m having a very successful career.
“People tend to downplay my accomplishments, and you can’t do that.”
Unlike some of his American peers, Thompson sees the Klitschko brothers as role models both inside and outside of the ring, and feels that if they were not from Eastern Europe but were instead Wally and Vic Klitschko from the American Midwest, they would be huge stars here: “David Beckham, American-style,” chuckles Thompson.
“We are so arrogant to think that nobody else can be as dominant as we are, but when Mike Tyson was dominant we loved it, we clamored for Mike, we did everything to keep him in the spotlight even though he wasn’t that great of a human being,” Thompson observes.
“These guys [the Klitschkos] are great fighters as well as great human beings, and we really don’t want anything to do with them because they’re not Americans.”
Tony Thompson, however, believes that a revival for the heavyweight division in America is very close – as close as July 7, when he intends to take back the heavyweight crown for America.
“I think once we have a heavyweight champion, [US boxing fans] will be a little more kinder to the American heavyweight fighters,” Thompson says.
“Also I think American TV will come back out and watch American heavyweights again. We need a figure here and I’m looking to be that figure.”
What about the fact that, as many have pointed out, Tony Thompson is now a 40-year-old heavyweight?
That seeming negative is easily parried by referring to the success of another 40-year-old: Vitali Klitschko.
Thompson sees parallels between his situation and that of the WBC heavyweight kingpin. Neither of them, he says, has ever taken tremendous punishment, nor been in many “ring wars.”
“I think I’m in the prime of my career with my knowledge and my body you know–knowing my body and knowing the game a little bit better, I think I’m at the height of my career,” Thompson says.
“I think I’ve got at least three or four more good years–and hopefully great years – left in boxing. I think part of that is because I started so late and haven’t been in any real wars–same with Vitali, he hasn’t had too many wars except for Corrie Sanders, maybe, and Lennox Lewis.
“He doesn’t really get hit that often so he’s been well preserved, and he took a lot of time off, so it’s not necessarily age, it’s the cumulative punishment on the body.”
As to what he can do differently this time out against Wlad, Thompson is understandably guarded, but says the key is coming to the ring in the best shape of his career.
“Wladimir did a lot of things [in the first fight] that he wouldn’t normally do because he was confident you know, that he had the fight won, he saw that I was tired and not in the best of condition, and he really got confident once my work rate went down.
“He did a lot of things … I think I’m going to combat that by being in better shape. I’m really looking forward to kicking that confidence back and making him into just a one-two fighter.”
And what about the long break between fights for Thompson? He was scheduled to fight fellow American Eddie Chambers last year, but Chambers pulled out at the last minute, causing some Facebook friction between the two friends.
When he steps in the ring against Wlad, it will have been over a year since Thompson defeated Maurice Harris by a third-round TKO.
Tony the Tiger, however, brushes aside any worries over ring rust.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” he says resolutely.
“I’m going to have a great training camp, I’m going to work hard, I’ve been in 38 professional fights and countless camps, so it’s not like you forget how to fight. Yes you want to be sharp, but that’s what my training camp is for, to sharpen up my skills.
“So I’ll be ready.”