By Jake Donovan
With his stay-busy title defense against Jean-Marc Mormeck now out of the way, Wladimir Klitschko gets to focus on the rest of his 2012 campaign, one that he believes will include three total title defenses (including Saturday’s mismatch) and a return to the United States.
If the lineal heavyweight king honors mandatory challengers, then next on the list should be a rematch with American southpaw Tony Thompson. With the rescheduling of the Mormeck fight from its originally slated date of last December came the order from the IBF that a rematch with Thompson must stake place by no later than July.
It has been widely suggested that Thompson has given Klitschko his toughest challenge over the course of a second title reign that is now creeping up on six years and running. That fight came four years ago, when a then-36-year old Thompson traveled to Germany.
The 6’6” American was never a threat at any point to win the fight, but Klitschko certainly knew he was there all night. It’s more than can be said of the majority of his 11 title defenses in his latest reign, as most of his opponents have tended to shut down the moment the opening bell rang.
The question remaining now is whether or not Thompson’s handlers can convince the masses – and more importantly, Klitschko himself – that a rematch is worth everyone’s time. One thing for certain is that it’s definitely worth Thompson’s time, more so than the shot at the belt itself.
“I would be disappointed if Wladimir gave up the belt, but I don’t think he’d do that,” said Thompson when asked of the possibility of fighting for a vacant title should Klitschko choose to go in a different direction. “He doesn’t want to tarnish his name and legacy. He knows (Chris) Arreola is tailor-made. He has plenty of time to fight Arreola. Get me out the way first and then go onto business you feel you had with Arreola.”
Having not fought since last May and already watching a fight with title implications fall through due to his opponent (Eddie Chambers) suffering an injury, Thompson has no intention on settling for a vacant belt or accepting step aside money for Klitschko to go in a different direction should it come to that.
All that Thompson wants is a shot at redemption.
“Wladimir is the recognized champion. Forget what belt Vitali holds, Wlad is THE champ,” Thompson insists, in agreeing with the experts who honor Wladimir’s lineal title reign dating back to his stoppage win over Ruslan Chagaev in June ’09. “So that’s mainly why I want to fight him and nobody else.
“Second, there’s the fact that he kicked my ass in front of my wife and everyone I know. I want to knock his head off in front of everyone close, the same way he did to me.”
Thompson (36-2, 24KO) has won five straight since that night, all by knockout and all coming against fringe contenders. The 40-year young D.C. native had a fight lined up last October with close friend Eddie Chambers, but wound up getting canceled after Chambers suffered an injury during training, leaving Thompson without a fight since stopping Maurice Harris in five rounds last May.
Lesser competition than the Klitschkos certainly helped Thompson resume his winning ways and in emphatic fashion – including an ESPN2-televised fourth round knockout of Owen Beck. The biggest key to success, however, is being in perfect health, which he insists was not the case when he faced Klitschko in Germany more than four years ago.
“I know in my heart that I wasn’t at my best that night. It’s not an excuse. It’s well-documented that I had surgeries after that fight. I was on one leg and pressed that fight. He couldn’t get that fighter out until the 11th round. Proper conditioning and clean living always keeps me ready. I want to now see what I can do against him while I have two good legs.”
None of this is to discredit Klitschko’s accomplishments – Thompson insists he has the utmost respect for both younger and older brother. There’s no question that they are the two best heavyweights in the world, a fact not lost on the American, who wants to beat the best in order to prove that the U.S. is still capable of producing the best.
Whether or not the fight takes place in the United States is less important than the fact the rematch actually takes place. That said, a rematch with a different look would be an easier sell than a repeated scenario of the buildup leading to their July ’08 encounter.
“Wladimir Klitschko has been a great champion; in fact both Klitschkos have been tremendous champions. But it’s time to bring the belts back to the United States,” believes Thompson’s promoter Dan Goossen. “I feel a fight of this magnitude is a big fight in the U.S. There is a strong case to put this fight in Washington D.C., which has built itself back up as a fight town.”
The successful promotion behind the title winning effort of Lamont Peterson – Thompson’s friend with whom he trains under the watchful eye of Barry Hunter - against Amir Khan in the nation’s capital has offered hope that boxing can exist in areas of the United States other than the traditional fight towns – Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New York, Los Angeles, etc.
Thompson would love nothing more than to bring the belts home, whether in an actual fight in his backyard or in doing so during a victory tour upon his return from wherever the fight may take place. First and foremost is to secure the fight itself, as he firmly believes it’s time for real heavyweights to step back into the title picture.
“Wlad got that infomercial out the way, now it’s time for fights,” Thompson quips of the four-round showcase with Mormeck, which aired live on American premium cable network EPIX and its online feed at EpixHD.com. “They have valuable opponents out there. No need for all of these cruiserweights getting their shot. David Haye, (Tomasz) Adamek, Mormeck, whatever –ecks and blown up cruiserweights you want to dig up. They didn’t do anything with it. I’m ready for my second shot.”
Despite advancing to age 40 since their last go-round, Thompson and his team firmly believe he’ll be far better prepared this time around. Aside from the health issue, it’s theorized that he’s actually improved with age.
“I don’t exaggerate when I say this, but Tony is in the prime of his career,” suggests Goossen, speaking to his fighter’s late start and ability to preserve himself. “He didn’t turn pro until he was 27 years old and has matured in the ring.
“The first time he fought, what I also thought hurt him was he was a bit of a babe in the woods. It was his first fight on that stage, but he still accorded himself well. He’s healthy and more mature now. I do believe he’s underestimated.”
A lot of that has to do with the fact their fight not being very competitive. While Thompson is credited for being the toughest challenge for either Klitschko in their current title reigns, the outcome was still never in doubt. This fact isn’t lost on Thompson, who admires his conqueror and can only hope to get the chance to earn his respect in the ring.
“I have nothing bad to say about the Klitschkos. They are very professional. They’re gentlemanly. That’s the way it should be when you are the leader of the heavyweight division. I’m from the streets and can trash talk with the best of them. But you don’t have to trash people, slap people at the press conference and stuff like that (referring to the incident with Vitali and Dereck Chisora two weeks ago).
“Vitali was classy and remained calm. He’s a better man than me because I would’ve reacted a lot different. But I’m also a gentleman and try to serve as a role model for kids to look up to. I appreciate that about the Klitschkos.”
That said, he believes he can serve as just as great of an ambassador to the sport – as long as he’s given his rightful shot at the crown.
“I will be champion in 2012,” Thompson promises. “I’m going to get that title.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]