By Lyle Fitzsimmons
These days, it’d take a hardcore fan to recognize Will Tomlinson.
In fact, the 26-year-old concedes that when he wanders far enough away from his hometown clique in Melbourne, Australia, few would have any idea they were rubbing shoulders with a world champion.
“It really depends where I am and what environment I’m in,” he said. “If I’m in my local area, then, yeah, I get recognized a bit, but in Australia boxing is not the most popular sport going around, so it doesn’t exactly get the mainstream media it needs to turn boxers in to public icons.”
He’s hoping to make the jump sooner than later.
Tomlinson entered the belted class in November 2011 when he defeated Mexican Alan Herrera to capture the IBO’s vacant title at 130 pounds. He’s since defended it twice, defeating Daniel Ruiz by a bizarre eight-round technical decision – made necessary by a power outage at the fight venue – and unanimously handling Irving Berry over the scheduled 12-round distance.
He’ll take a step up in foes next month when he faces two-time IBF champ Malcolm Klassen – perhaps best known for a competitive 12-rounder with Robert Guerrero in 2009 – in Melbourne on May 16.
The South African has won three straight since the decision loss to “The Ghost” and held his own belts after defeats of Garry St. Clair in 2006 and Cassius Baloyi in 2009. He lost both in his initial defenses, first to Mzonke Fana and then to Guerrero, who rose to lightweight in his next fight.
Klassen is ranked 37th at 130 in the IBO’s computerized rankings for April. Tomlinson, incidentally, is ranked third by the WBO, seventh by the WBA and ninth each by the IBF and WBC.
“Klassen is definitely a classy fighter,” Tomlinson said. “He’s got lots of experience and it’s going to take a great fight on my behalf to beat him. However, it’s fights like these that I thrive for and I believe that when I am tested and challenged that is when I fight my best and rise to another level.”
We caught up with Tomlinson to discuss the upcoming fight, where he feels he fits in at 130 pounds and his plans to take his act overseas in the future.
Fitzbitz: You’ve now spent more than a year as a recognized world champion. Can you talk about the impact that’s made on you? Are you a fighter who’s gotten better as a champion?
Tomlinson: Since I won the title back in November 2011, I definitely think I’ve improved as a fighter both mentally and physically. In the three title fights I’ve had now, I have learned some valuable lessons in what it takes to be a championship fighter and how to stay the champion.
Fitzbitz: Both the 130-pound class and the divisions around it seem to have a lot of high-end fighters and the potential for big-ticket fights that fans want to see. If you could make any fights happen – regardless of promotional ties, etc. – what would they be?
Tomlinson: After I get through Klassen, I want to fight in the States. I don’t care where or who against, but I just want to fight under the biggest, brightest lights in boxing and I believe that’s in the States.
Fitzbitz: Who is the best fighter in the world at 130 pounds? Is it you? If so, why? If not, who is it and why?
Tomlinson: I ain’t going to say I’m the best fighter in the world. But what I will say is that I can promise whoever they put in front of me I will go to hell and back to do whatever I have to do to beat them.
Fitzbitz: Who’s the best fighter you’ve been in a ring with? Has there been a moment in your 21 fights where you thought, “OK, I need to change things or I’m going to lose?”
Tomlinson: I guess it would be fair to say that the bloke who gave me the toughest fight of my career, Alan Herrera, would be up there. Four or five rounds into the fight things were getting pretty tough, so I had to really use my brains and change my game plan to get the win.
Fitzbitz: Out of the 21 fights so far, which has been your best? If you were to have someone look at one tape to say “This is Will Tomlinson,” which fight would you show them?
Tomlinson: Definitely the most entertaining fight I’ve been in would have to be again with Alan Herrera. It was 12 rounds at a fast, furious place with us both trading some big shots.
Fitzbitz: At 26 years old and with nearly five years under your belt as a professional, are you now in your prime? What other things do you need to improve on to get where you want to be talent-wise?
Tomlinson: Yeah, I definitely like to think that I’m coming into my prime. However, I still feel like I have a lot more to learn and a lot offer as a fighter.
Fitzbitz: What’s the plan for you in terms of weight? Are you a 130-pound fighter for the foreseeable future, or will you be a guy who jumps from weight to weight in search of the biggest and best fights?
Tomlinson: Right now I’m more than comfortable staying at super featherweight defending my world title here. I feel fit and strong at the weight. However, in the future I definitely think that I have the frame to fill out to see me very competitive at a higher weight as well.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC super welterweight title – San Antonio, Texas
Saul Alvarez (champion) vs. Austin Trout (unranked)
Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KO): Sixth title defense; First fight in Texas
Trout (26-0, 14 KO): Sixth championship fight; Ninth fight in Texas (8-0)
Fitzbitz says: “If Alvarez is as good as I think he is – and I think he’s pretty good – he’ll overcome a strong, athletic challenger with his grinding toughness.” Alvarez by decision
Vacant WBC super bantamweight title – Mexico City, Mexico
Victor Terrazas (No. 1 contender) vs. Cristian Mijares (No. 2 contender)
Terrazas (36-2-1, 21 KO): First title fight; Eleventh bout scheduled for 12 rounds (10-1)
Mijares (47-6-2, 22 KO): Eleventh title fight; Held IBF, WBA, WBC titles at 115 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “Mijares has reinvented himself with 11 straight wins since a three-fight skid in 2009. I expect him to continue the roll here against foe whose resume doesn’t compare.” Mijares by decision
WBO light heavyweight title – London, United Kingdom
Nathan Cleverly (champion) vs. Robin Krasniqi (No. 1 contender)
Cleverly (25-0, 12 KO): Fifth title defense; Sixth fight in London (5-0)
Krasniqi (39-2, 15 KO): First title fight; 38 straight wins since starting career 1-2
Fitzbitz says: “For Cleverly to have any lingering chance at landing a Hopkins fight, he’ll have to take care of business here, which he ought to while ending his foe’s prodigious win streak.” Cleverly by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-1
2013 picks record: 15-13 (53.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 478-165 (74.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.