- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

For the average Joe, owning a professional sports franchise is just a dream, something never to be realized.

The closest you could come to that kind of thrill, perhaps, is to join a group investing in a race horse.

Well, there is another road to sports mogul glory. Get some of your friends together to come up with seed money. Search the high school and college football fields of America for big men who have no future in the game.

Give them a pair of boxing gloves, a boxing license and a trainer and put them in a gym. Then start on the club fight circuit, carefully picking out opponents that are beatable.

Before you know it, you might have a heavyweight contender and a million-dollar payday.

That is the state of the heavyweight division these days, and District native Tony Thompson is more or less proof of that.

Thompson (31-1, 19 knockouts) will face one of the heavyweight champion title holders, Wladimir Klitschko (50-3, 44 knockouts) Saturday in Hamburg, Germany.

Thompson is 36 years old. A former high school football player, he didn’t begin boxing until he was 27, starting at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md.

The 6-foot-5 heavyweight since then put together a string of wins over, for the most part, no-name opponents. (His lone defeat came in a four-round loss in 2000 to Eric Kirkland.)

But, these days, when you are an American heavyweight with a 27-1 record, you can’t be ignored. There are a limited number of heavyweight opponents to match these days that can survive in the business long enough to amass that kind of record.

In other words, at some point, there is no one else left.

(Oh, yes, one other step for those seeking fame and fortune: At some point, you have to decide to bring in a partner, someone familiar with the business of boxing who can navigate the shark-infested waters. Thompson picked a good one in Nate Peake and the Peake Management Group in Washington.)

Thompson, to his credit, took advantage of his rise in 2006, stepping up in competition with a 12-round decision over contender Dominick Guinn, followed by victories over two recognized Eastern European fighters, Timor Ibragimov and a fifth-round knockout of Luan Krasniqi.

“I think I am peaking at the right time,” Thompson said. “I was going to force their hand one way or the other and keep winning. Now things are starting to take off like they should. They couldn’t ignore me forever.”

And so now here he is, fighting for two heavyweight championship titles, and you know what? He has a chance to win them. Not a great chance, but a chance.

He matches up well size-wise with the 6-foot-6 Klitschko. He is a southpaw, which will present the Ukrainian some problems. He possesses an effective and long jab.

Thompson’s workman-like style, while not pleasing to the eye, can tire out an opponent, and it has been proved in the past (his loss to Lamon Brewster) that Klitschko can run out of gas and be vulnerable.

“I expect a tough fight,” Thompson said. “He is not the champion for nothing. But I expect my hand to be raised as the new heavyweight champion of the world.”

If that happens, Thompson will be the only American title holder among the recognized boxing organizations. He will come back to the District a conquering hero, besieged by media who I can assure you today have no idea who Tony Thompson is or that he is fighting for the heavyweight championship.

Then again, no one in America has any idea who any of the heavyweight champions are these days (Klitschko holds the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization belts; Ruslan Chagaev the World Boxing Association title; Samuel Peter the World Boxing Council championship).

If Tony the Tiger wins today, at least the D.C. area will be able to name one heavyweight champion.

And then, like the gold rush, look for dreamers scouring the football fields of America, searching for the next heavyweight champion and their chance to be the new Don King.

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