Don’t look past John Thompson
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John Thompson can’t help it. Sometimes the Newark, N.J.-based junior middleweight just has a feeling that his life always been placed on “stand-by.”
His professional career has been carved out through his own doing. The rangy 6-foot-1, 26 year old is a brilliant landscape and portrait artist, yet he worked at a local airport as a baggage handler until his pro career blossomed. He won 89 amateur fights with a resume that included victories over Keith Thurman and Glen Tapia. Still, no love as a pro for the “Apollo Kidd.”
And even this career-making opportunity arriving Saturday night against Liverpool’s Liam Smith at the Manchester Arena, in Manchester, England, for the WBO 154-pound title vacated through Demetrius Andrade’s inactivity, came by being a stand-byÔÇöquite literally.
Thompson (17-1, 6 knockouts) wasn’t supposed to be here. He earned the spot by winning the 2015 Boxcino tournament as a late replacement for Cleotis Pendarvis, who failed to make weight. On a day’s notice, Thompson drove from Newark to the Mohegan Sun Casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut, on the chance someone would fall out.
He then chewed up the two favorites, the previously undefeated Stanyslav Skorokhod, and Brandon Adams to get the spotÔÇöcoming off the canvas in the first round to stop Adams in the second.
Not bad for someone thought to be “club material” after getting stopped by undefeated Frank Galarza in January 2014.
“It’s the story of my life,” said Thompson, who is co-promoted by GH3 and Banner Promotions for this opportunity against Smith (20-0-1, 10 KOs). “From where I’m from, Newark, no one actually expects you to do anything, except maybe have a job. I made it up out of that.
“I had a great job at the airport (working for United Airlines), and boxing took off. After the (Galarza) loss, I stopped listening to a lot of people. I focused on what got me here. I worked as a baggage handler, putting bags in the belly of planes; separating bags and pushing the planes out on the runway so we could load them. I got the job when I was 18 and I’ve had it for seven years.”
Do that long enough and your mind wanders. It’s what Thompson did. He’d daydream about winning world championships on sore swollen feet, always keeping in mind the menial work he was doing would lead to something greater.
But he had to learn a stark lesson in the Galarza loss.
“You get in the ring and you’ve been doing it so long, so naturally you take it for granted that you’re going to win,” Thompson said. “That’s what happened there. He jolted me, then caught me with a good shot that I didn’t see. One punch changed the fight. I’ve been hit harder, I’ve definitely been way harder than that. I learned I have to always be aware and never take anyone lightly when I’m in there. That my life is on the line when I’m in that ring.”
Something changed, though. People who knew him would come up and ask if he’s still boxingÔÇölike it all ended on one punch.
“I’ve been doubted most of my life, it’s nothing new to me,” said Thompson, who’s trained by his father, John Thompson III. “When I come out victorious on Saturday night, people back home will be like ‘Oh, you did it.’ And I’ll be like, ‘What did you think was going to happen, anything but what I said?'”
There’s an inner fight that stems from more than just being bypassed. Thompson comes from a hardcore area of Newark, where he’s seen friends die. He somehow survived the trauma of losing his mother, Evonnie Coleman, to AIDS when he was six.
His family wouldn’t let him visit her, but he knew what was going on. It’s over 20 years since her passing and he can still remember what the front of hospital looked like where she was staying.
“When you’re younger, you don’t think that kids know anything,” the Apollo Kidd recalled. “I knew everything. Adults try to keep you away from things. I knew what was going on and I even remember the front of that hospital. At first, I thought my mom was on a vacation or something like that. I wasn’t allowed to visit her. I’ll always remember my father telling me how much my mom was a fighter and she kept fighting it until the end.”
To commemorate his mother and his three older sisters, including Sameerah Coleman, who essentially raised him, he bears a tattoo of four queens on his left shoulder with their names emblazed on his skin.
Once again, Thompson finds himself bypassed. He knows he’s fighting in Smith’s backyard. He knows not many feel he can win.
It’s nothing new.
“I don’t think (Smith) poses any kind of challenge to me, because I don’t think any man with two fists is a challenge,” Thompson said. “I’m coming to fight in his hometown, so I know I can’t leave this fight up to the judges. I plan on winning this fight very impressively.
“I don’t know if I’ll out-box or out punch him. I came here to do damage. He hasn’t fought anyone as good as me; at the end of the day, you can’t take anyone lightly. He’s taking me lightly. That will change when he gets in that ring. Then he’s mine; nothing will be able to save him then. I definitely feel pretty confident.”
You get bypassed enough it’s the only way to think.