He's Fighting, for His Life

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

VERO BEACH, Fla. The man who could become the next heavyweight boxing champion of the world reclined on a couch attempting to calculate the distance between his family in Maryland and his training site here, between the people he loves and where he needs to be to support them.

"How far is Florida from D.C.?" Tony Thompson asked one of his trainers. They first tried calculating the distance to Orlando. Then, they tacked on the distance from Orlando to Vero Beach. Finally, Thompson reached his conclusion.

"We a long way," he said.

A long way from his home in Fort Washington and his native Washington. A long way from his wife and seven kids. A long way from a childhood in Southeast when he left school early and his dreams unfulfilled.

On Saturday, Thompson will fight for the heavyweight title against Wladimir Klitschko in Hamburg, a bout in which he's a heavy underdog. The path to the fight started nine years ago, when Thompson was 27 and realized he could make a living by pounding another man's face. It was a way to support his family, nothing more.

Thompson doesn't love boxing. He derives no joy from training. He fights for the reward, not the act.

"I really don't like getting hit," he said. "I really don't like to train for boxing. I'm just good at it. It's what I do to make a living. If I had my choices of making a living, I'm not one of those people who would say boxing. . . . Boxing was so far down the list for me."

A few minutes earlier, Thompson answered a call from one his children wishing him a happy Father's Day. Muted in the background was a television displaying the U.S. Open golf tournament, which occupied Thompson's attention for a few moments. He was just biding time -- a three-hour intermission between going to the movies and the bowling alley on his lone day off of the week.

Thompson splits most of his free time between his children, the bowling alley, the golf course and the movies. He goes to clubs only when his promoters need him at events. He doesn't smoke, rarely drinks. The only parties he'll attend are cookouts he hosts.

"I'm so boring, it's ridiculous," said Thompson, 36. "I'm so redundant. I do the same thing pretty much every day."

Thompson won his first four professional fights, lost his fifth eight years ago and hasn't lost since. He has a 27-fight win streak, primarily against unknown opponents. Now, he's fighting for boxing's most prestigious distinction. His late start to the sport combined with his understated lifestyle would make him one of heavyweight boxing's most unlikely champions.

Football Dreams

If Thompson had his way, this story would be about his career with the Washington Redskins. He would be a retired Pro Bowl defensive end who returned to his hometown NFL team after a college career at Notre Dame.

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