Tony Thompson to get title crack
When heavyweight contender Tony Thompson found out that he had been named the mandatory challenger for champion Wladimir Klitschko, he did something you normally wouldn't associate with a big, strong fighter.
"I was borderline sappy. I really felt I was going to start bawling like a baby because I wanted this opportunity so bad," Thompson told ESPN.com on Monday.
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Thompson was named the IBF's mandatory challenger for Klitschko in the wake of Eddie Chambers' withdrawal from a final eliminator. Thompson and Chambers were supposed to meet last Friday on Showtime for the right to meet Klitschko, but Chambers, citing a bad back, pulled out 10 days earlier.
When Chambers later declined to participate in a rescheduled bout on Dec. 17, Thompson was named the mandatory challenger.
Klitschko (56-3, 49 KOs) will make his 11th title defense against France's Jean-Marc Mormeck (36-4, 22 KOs) on Dec. 10 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The winner -- Klitschko is a huge favorite -- will be obligated to face Thompson next.
In July 2008, Thompson had a mandatory shot against Klitschko in Germany and, although he gave him the most competitive fight of any of his defenses, Klitschko stopped him in the 11th round.
"Knowing I wasn't at 100 percent has been eating away at me for the past three years," said Thompson, who fought with an injured knee that required surgery following the fight. "Now to have another opportunity at the ripe old age of 40, I will be at my best in terms of conditioning and my knowledge of the game. This means everything to me."
Thompson (36-2, 24 KOs), of Washington, D.C., turned 40 on Oct. 18. However, he did not begin boxing until his mid-20s. He has won five consecutive bouts -- all by knockout -- since losing to Klitschko.
To determine Klitschko's mandatory challenger, the IBF ordered a four-man box-off. Chambers outpointed Derric Rossy in a February semifinal and Thompson knocked out Maurice Harris in the third round in May. When Chambers dropped out of the final, the IBF made Thompson the mandatory challenger rather than order him to face an opponent who had not gone through the box-off.
"Eddie, in essence, forfeited his opportunity and felt he was wasn't going to be prepared physically or mentally for the rescheduled date," said Dan Goossen, who promotes Thompson and Chambers. "So the IBF obviously took the position, which we certainly agreed with, that there was a box-off to get to the final eliminator and anything other than naming Tony the mandatory wasn't right. Tony did everything he was supposed to do, including prepare himself for Oct. 28 and begin preparing himself for Dec. 17 if Eddie was going to participate.
"We would have all preferred that the fight occurred to establish the mandatory, but it didn't work out that way. I was one of the voices to Eddie telling him this was an opportunity that very few people get. I told him, 'I would give it careful consideration to make sure you make the right decision.' When things get down to it, it's always up to the fighter. I'm not going to talk a fighter into it if the fighter doesn't feel like he is physically or mentally ready for whatever reason. We are in very rough sport. You can get hurt when you are physically and mentally prepared to fight and the chances are even more so if you are not."
Goossen said he hopes Klitschko would be willing to come to the United States for the rematch if he beats Mormeck. Even if Thompson has to return to Germany, Goossen said he was happy he is getting another chance.
"As down as Tony was when he heard Eddie wasn't fighting, obviously he is excited for the chance to fight Wladimir again," Goossen said. "He told me on the phone when he found out he was the mandatory, 'Dan, I promise you I'm gonna knock out Wladimir Klitschko and become heavyweight champion of the world.' I just have that belief that Tony can surprise a lot of people when that opportunity happens.
"He has eight kids and works his butt off to take care of them. He knows what hardship is and what's in front of him. He's gotten better and better as the years have gone on. He doesn't like to talk about it, but he had a bad knee in the first fight and he never complained about it."
Thompson, who not only has already fought Klitschko but also sparred with him to get him ready for a 2003 fight with Corrie Sanders (which Klitschko lost by second-round knockout), said he would like to attend Klitschko-Mormeck and "sit in the front row" to scout out his future opponent.
"It wouldn't be fair to me to make me fight a guy who didn't have a preliminary fight (in the box-off), so I feel the IBF made a fair decision and I'm thankful," Thompson said.
He and Chambers are good friends and he said Chambers (36-2, 18 KOs), who had also been knocked out by Klitschko in the 12th round of a 2010 mandatory shot, assured him his injury was legitimate.
"He was always leery of the fight and the purse he was being offered when all this started, but to come this late in a training camp and then pull out I was surprised," Thompson said. "But he called me and assured me he does have a legitimate injury. He wanted to assure me he wasn't pulling the wool over my eyes and wanted to assure me as a buddy.
"Had he put me through another training camp and then pulled out (before the rescheduled date) that would have been worse. Now I can start preparing for Wladimir right now. Yes, I was angry I didn't get to perform on Showtime (on Oct. 28) and bring a fight to the public, but I'm always a glass half-full guy. I am where I wanted to be -- in position to fight Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship of the world."
Dan Rafael is the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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