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Boxing News, February 23, 2007

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Tip-Toe Through The Division
Tony Thompson Creeps Ever Closer to the Top,
and This Guy’s for Real



Heavyweight contender Tony Thompson showed up at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills needing some big shoes to fill. Even though he was in the main event, he left his size 14 boxing shoes at home. Was the absence of apparel a subconscious gesture that “The Tiger” was less interested in fighting than feasting on surgically-enhanced bunnies in Hef’s notorious adult playground? Was he more focused on skinny dipping in the notorious Grotto?

It’s hard to find such big shoes on short notice, but Thompson lucked out. A gangly member of Fox Sports Net’sproduction team, which broadcast the match, had a pair of basketball low-tops that fit the 6’5’’ Washington, D.C. native.

Maybe he intended to fight in his socks? Indeed, the now 29-1 (17) boxer has silently assaulted the division in his own manner. For a man who turned pro at 30, and had limited amateur experience beforehand, his ascendance has been nothing short of remarkable. Not that anyone has noticed.

Tompson hasn’t lost in over six and a half years. And since 2002 he has disposed of the usual suspects—Zuri Lawrence, Gilbert Martinez, Yanqui Diaz, Dominick Guinn—that more hyped heavies have faced and received more attention in doing so.  But this last victory might have been a turning point for him. In handing Timor Ibragimov a UD 10 loss, it’s getting harder and harder to keep Thompson a secret. Scores were 97-93 twice and 99-91 for the heavyweight currently ranked at #7 in the WBC and #5 in the WBO.

The lesser of the two Ibragimov’s (don’t confuse Timor with the more aggressive Sultan), the now 21-2-1 (13) Uzbeki still represented Tony’s toughest challenge. The exposure on FSN was also far greater than his previous bout against Guinn, which aired on ESPN2.  

While there’s nothing spectacular about Thompson and he doesn’t make for entertaining fights, there’s much to be impressed with. He has a long, wide frame—6’5’’, 240 (and sometimes more), with an 81.5-inch reach. In spite of having such big feet, I’ve never seen him trip over them, even when in someone else’s shoes. When he has gotten knocked down in the past, he always gathered himself and came back strong. He’s a southpaw, and uses his awkwardness to good effect. He doesn’t box like a neophyte but as someone who grew up in a gym; he parries blows and doesn’t just cover up, has an educated, busy jab, and looks like he’s thinking in there. Another crucial ingredient: he’s never made any money. He’s as hungry and desperate as a 35-year-old can be. (People talk about Philly being a tough city, but D.C. might be a harder place, and I’m not referring to the corners of K Street.)

In Timor’s last outing against Calvin Brock, he was horrible. He refused to fight. This time he showed more ambition in the opening round. Except for the occasional right hand that got inside Thompson’s jab, he wasn’t that effective.

Round by round was a downward slide from there. Timor had no answer for the taller man’s incessant, pesky jab. (Surprising that Timor was the decorated amateur with an Olympic pedigree, and Thompson’s the greenhorn whose first match was in a toughman contest.) By the mid rounds he wasn’t just backing up but running away. Thompson had no trouble walking his the Uzbeki down, whose shots had no sting, and it would’ve been kinder of Thompson had he just ended the show early.

That’s not the type of fighter Thompson is, apparently. He frustrates, he annoys, he touches you up; he doesn’t blast guys out of the ring.  I can’t say I’m dying to see him fight again, but there’s no doubt he presents a difficult match-up for any of the current heavies in the top ten. And in a pivotal fight in which the loser becomes an also-ran and the winner becomes a top contender, Tony easily proved himself the better man.

Campaigning at super middleweight, 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell showed off his considerable wares against a severely overmatched Kenny Kost. If boxing wants to help itself, it needs to stop showcasing young talent in mismatches. What we need are as many good matches as possible, even with carefully handled merchandise like the now 11-0 (7) Dirrell, who won a UD 8 by scores of 69-80 twice and 80-70.

While Andre lacks his brother Anthony’s pop, he did down Kost twice, exhibiting blazing speed and athleticism. Kost, who fell to 11-3 (6), is a name known to some because he fought Andre Ward in 2005. As was the case with Dirrell, Kost had no answer for Ward’s fast hands.

But both Andre’s considerable promise is somewhat marred, at least from a marketing standpoint, by their lack of power. They may go on to win titles, but fans love the threat of a scintillating KO.




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