By Ryan Maquiñana
Not too many people get second chances to accomplish their lifelong dreams after falling short the first time—much less another crack at the unified heavyweight championship of the world.
At the ripe age of 40, Tony “The Tiger” Thompson (36-2, 24 KOs) will receive just that on July 7 when he travels to the Stade de Suisse in Berne, Switzerland, to challenge WBA/IBF/WBO boss Wladimir Klitschko (57-3, 50 KOs) in a rematch of their 2008 battle that the champion won by 11th-round stoppage.
BoxingScene.com caught up with the pride of Washington, D.C., as he talked about why he believes things with “Dr. Steelhammer” will be different the second time around and the journey he’s taken to claw his way back to the precipice of the mountaintop.
BoxingScene.com: It’s been five fights and four years, but you’re getting a second shot at Wladimir Klitschko. Tell us about your mindset heading into the first fight, and now this one. Is there anything different in the way you’re approaching July 7?
Tony Thompson: My focus was on being the heavyweight champion, so that was the only thing on my mind at the time. It was an 11th-round stoppage, and at first, I couldn’t watch it. But over the years, I’ve watched it, and I’ve seen some positive things despite the results. I’ll definitely take those things with me to the rematch.
BoxingScene.com: One thing about your first fight is that you were fighting hurt. Does that add any perspective as far as you feeling like you weren’t 100 percent in terms of Klitschko being able to see the real you out there?
Tony Thompson: Exactly. I had a torn meniscus in my knee. I was able to get some things done, but it was tough to transfer the power from my knee the way I wanted to. If I can do that especially this time around, I can change the outcome.
BoxingScene.com: Usually, Klitschko has a major size advantage over his opponents, and he really utilizes his jab and sometimes the clinch to take away their ability to set up their shots. However, with you being in the 6’5’’, 250-pound range, that isn’t the case. Add to that your tricky southpaw style, and you stand out among a lot of the other guys he’s faced. Have you been studying film specifically in terms of how he’s fought other lefties, like say, Ruslan Chagaev?
Tony Thompson: Those guys have a different style than me. I’m more of an unconventional southpaw, so I think that gives me an advantage because you have to prepare for me in a different way like you would a normal southpaw. I have some quirks in me compared to what those other guys have.
It’s my job not let him jab, jab, grab. He has a great jab, but he has to beware of my jab, too. I have to win the jab war, and if I can do that, I can mess with the timing of his right hand a little bit. He likes to be comfortable before he throws his right hand.
BoxingScene.com: This is your fourth fight in Europe, and you’re on a hot streak, stopping your last five opponents. However, while I know you’d love to score the stoppage, if it goes the distance, do you think you can win a decision over there?
Tony Thompson: I’m going to make it so clear-cut so they’ll have no choice but to give me the decision. But I’m not going there to win a decision. I’m going over there to take the heavyweight championship of the world, and to win, you’re going to have to take it from him. And to do that, you have to knock him out.
BoxingScene.com: It’s amazing enough that you bounced back from the first loss to march right back to where you were four years ago. At the same time, you’re 40 years old. This may sound cliché, but is your sense of urgency more heightened than younger fighters who would challenge for the heavyweight title at this stage of their career?
Tony Thompson: There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but it ain’t because of my age, but because it’s the heavyweight championship of the world. I do understand the fight game. I don’t want to fight until I’m 45 or 46, but I don’t think my age has ever been a deterrent.
I haven’t taken a lot of punches. I started fighting late, which preserved my body. But this is the heavyweight championship of the world. How could this not be urgent?
BoxingScene.com: With everything you’ve been through, what would it mean for Tony Thompson to raise his arms in triumph on July 7 as the new heavyweight champion of the world?
Tony Thompson: It would mean the world to me. I’ve set a goal, and for me to accomplish it, I always tell the young folk that your destiny is your destination, and I will have finally reached my destination.
And not only that, it would be great for my family. Anything that will pull your family tighter and closer together, something to rally around, is always great.
After that, it’s for my city and the D-M-V area—[Washington,] D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. It would be huge for inspiration, and not only at home, but for the whole United States as well.
BoxingScene.com: Speaking of the United States and the D-M-V, the cries for the next great American heavyweight have lingered for years. One of them from the D-M-V, Maryland’s Seth Mitchell, has been getting a lot of attention and has been rising up the ranks. All the while, however, here we have a case of you actually being one win away from the titles. Do you feel like the fans and media in America have been sleeping on you?
Tony Thompson: I don’t think they’re sleeping on me. Give Seth his due. He deserves it and he’s been coming up. Me, I’ve never been a favorite son of boxing. It’s my job for me to change that. If you win the heavyweight championship of the world, they automatically have to put their eyes on you.
So Seth is his own man. He’s a great guy. He deserves all the credit he’s getting, but I can’t worry about what another man’s doing. I’m just worried about what I’m doing.
BoxingScene.com: Do you have anything you’d like to tell the fans in closing?
Tony Thompson: To the fans of Tony Thompson, I always appreciate it. You always come up and talk me. I’ve never been fan-shy. I say hello to everybody and talk to everybody as much as I can, and that won’t change when I’m heavyweight champion, so stay tuned. I’m about to make history.
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.