By Lyle Fitzsimmons
There’s Wladimir Klitschko.
You know him. Tall guy. Born in Kazakhstan. Lives in the Ukraine. Dates a tiny American actress. And he’s held at least two big pieces of the title-belt puzzle for more than half a decade. Outside of the minority that cedes the crown to his older brother, Vitali, most consider him heavyweight champion of the world.
And then there’s Tony Thompson.
You probably know him, too. He beats up most of the guys they put in front of him who aren’t named Wladimir Klitschko. And he unapologetically drops the jaws of live interviewers on British boxing broadcasts. Now, after another stirring night in Liverpool last Saturday, Thompson has a new title, too.
The heavyweight champion of everybody else.
Regardless of whether you think Thompson actually gave Klitschko more than a pedestrian challenge in their 17 combined rounds together – 11 in 2008, six in 2012 – you’ve got to admire the position the old man has worked himself into, thanks to a pair of upset beatings of Englishman David Price.
Though the first defeat of the 6-foot-9 fan favorite could be legitimately framed as a lucky shot from a guy who’d been sufficiently handled in the first round, Thompson’s rise from the floor to batter an out of gas foe in the rematch says as much about his positives as it does Price’s glaring negatives.
He makes for great copy.
But yeah, it turns out he can fight a little bit, too.
Along with several thousand breathless Brits in the crowd and a couple more manning the broadcast microphones, I was as sure as I could be by the end of rematch round two that the pasty English hero had done enough to prove that the stumble in February was no more than a momentary career blip.
He wasn’t exactly the ferocious lion that mentor Lennox Lewis had been while vanquishing his own fluky conquerors named Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. But, because a pawing left jab and a snapping straight right had already left Thompson flat on his back for a spell, I couldn’t quibble too much.
Right up until ol’ Tony decided it was time to pounce, that is.
The tide noticeably changed when a telling body shot landed in the fourth round, and, by the time Price took a huge gulp of breath upon exiting his corner to begin the fifth – the end was definitively near for both his contender status and Thompson’s stint as an also-ran to the throne.
Instead, with the two-peat over Price, he’s the winner and new consigliere to the Klitschko empire.
Though it’s got some limitations, it’s not too bad a deal if you think about it.
Sure, by making a irregular alliance with the division’s primary jewelry collector, both Thompson and fellow Klitschko interceptor Johnathon Banks have essentially kissed off any chance at the legitimate heavyweight championship for as long as Dr. Steelhammer remains in a position of power.
But they’re doing the boss some good along the way.
Banks is already ensconced in what figures to be a three-part drama with fellow American wannabe Seth Mitchell, winning the first in crushing style before dropping the second with maddening passivity. Whether he wins the third or not, he’s exposed “Mayhem” as no legitimate danger to Wlad.
As for Thompson, while a third go-round with Price is certainly a non-starter based on two existing results, an extended stint in the London market might just be possible – assuming the Tiger’s post-fight jabs at another Englishman, Tyson Fury, were something beyond just idle chatter.
Based on the flotsam posing as Klitschko challengers in the IBO’s July rankings, there’s not a whole lot else the would-be gatekeepers ought to be expected to accomplish.
Klitschko has handled No. 2 man David Haye himself; in addition to two beatings of Thompson, who entered the month at No. 9. Elsewhere, big brother Vitali has dropped No. 4 Tomasz Adamek and No. 7 Odlanier Solis; and little brother has a date with unbeaten No. 1 man Alexander Povetkin later this year.
If Thompson takes on No. 6 Fury and Banks completes the trio with No. 8 Mitchell, the only pretenders left unaccounted for would be No. 3 Robert Helenius, No. 5 Kubrat Pulev and No. 10 Vyacheslav Glazkov, who have a sterling collective record of 49-0-1 – but not one recent win in the current top 20.
The 41-year-old stated his own purpose in the moments after Saturday’s win.
“I got beat by the best in the worst way,” he said. “But if you take one step below the best, you’re not going to beat me. A lot of guys are a step below Klitschko, but I’m over that step.”
No doubt about it, it’s not a traditional war cry.
But as modern-day contenders go, it’s one helluva strong mission statement.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO junior welterweight title – Monte Carlo, Monaco
Khabib Allakhverdiev (champion) vs. Souleymane M'baye (No. 47 contender)
Allakhverdiev (18-0, 8 KO): Second title defense; First fight outside U.S. or Russia
M'baye (40-4-1, 22 KO): Fifth title fight (1-2-1); Held WBA belt at 140 (2006-07, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: “Gritty Russian is the latest in a series of IBO champs who’ll be recognized more after they won the belt. A grinding stoppage of an aging vet is the likeliest scenario here.” Allakhverdiev in 10
WBO mini-flyweight title – Pasay City, Philippines
Merlito Sabillo (champion) vs. Jorle Estrada (No. 15 contender)
Sabillo (22-0, 11 KO): First title defense; Four straight wins by stoppage
Estrada (17-6, 6 KO): First title fight; Two wins in seven fights against plus-.500 opponents
Fitzbitz says: “Slugging hometown champion looks ready for an easy night against an in-too-deep foe with barely a trace of credibility against capable opposition.” Sabillo in 3
WBO super middleweight title – Dresden, Germany
Robert Stieglitz (champion) vs. Yuzo Kiyota (No. 10 contender)
Stieglitz (44-3, 25 KO): First defense of second reign; Held WBO belt at 168 (2009-12, six defenses)
Kiyota (23-3-1, 21 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Japan
Fitzbitz says: “Russian-born and German-based, Stieglitz made himself a semi-relevant factor at 168 pounds with a shocking TKO win in his last fight. The momentum continues here.” Stieglitz 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: 2-0
2013 picks record: 38-24 (61.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 501-176 (74.0 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz. Tags: Tony Thompson