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Fighting for Attention : Pinklon Thomas, WBC Heavyweight Champion, Is Unbeaten--and Unknown

Times Staff Writer

Pinklon Thomas is the heavyweight boxing champion of the world--well, he’s one of ‘em, anyway--and he has decided to start acting like it.

No more of this humble, nice-guy stuff. The quiet, mild-mannered former drug addict thinks it’s time people knew just who the heavyweight champion is.

Some people are still under the impression that the heavyweight champion is Larry Holmes. Why, Pinklon Thomas himself was still thinking that the very night he won the World Boxing Council’s version of the title. He said so. He called Larry Holmes the real champion.

He isn’t thinking that way anymore. The reasonable approach was getting him nowhere. Here he is, the heavyweight champion, scheduled for a title fight against Mike Weaver at the Riviera Hotel tonight, his name on the marquee as the star of the show, and he has to introduce himself. He ought to own this glitzy playground.

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But when Thomas parades through the casino with his entourage, giving his best glowering, eyes-front stare, the people staring back say: “There’s one of the fighters. Which one is he?”

Enough of that.

“There isn’t but one heavyweight champion, and that’s me,” Thomas said with as much conviction as he could muster. “Larry Holmes is a contender.”

Holmes, now the International Boxing Federation champion, held the WBC title for six years but surrendered it after a contract dispute. That leaves promoter Don King the job of promoting a card of three heavyweight “title bouts” without the one man that most folks pulling the slots would recognize.

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“Larry Holmes bit the hand of the organization that fed him,” Thomas said. “So he is no champion.

“I’m throwing some cheese at Larry Holmes because he is not a man, he’s a mouse.

“Larry Holmes wants to go for the record of a great fighter who is no longer around to defend himself (Rocky Marciano, who was unbeaten in 49 fights). If Larry Holmes has anything to prove, let him prove it to me, who is alive and able to defend himself.”

Thomas apparently is catching on. He’s hyping a fight yet to be signed while hyping the fight tonight.

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HBO will televise the card, live, starting at 6 p.m., with the 12-round Thomas-Weaver fight expected to start about 7:15 p.m.

Thomas will be defending his title for the first time since he won it from Tim Witherspoon here last August. Thomas is 25-0-1 with 20 knockouts. The draw was with Gerrie Coetzee, World Boxing Assn. champion.

His challenger, Mike Weaver, is a former WBA champion.

Witherspoon, now the North American Boxing Federation champion, will defend his title in a 12-round bout against James (Bonecrusher) Smith. David Bey, the United States Boxing Assn. champion, will defend his title against Trevor Berbick in a 12-round bout.

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All those titles, all those champions--no wonder the WBC champion is getting lost in the crowd.

“Who is the real champion?” Thomas asked. “Larry Holmes has beaten everybody else. He’s beaten Weaver, he’s beaten ‘Spoon, he’s beaten Bonecrusher, he’s beaten Bey, he’s beaten Berbick. He’s beaten everybody but me.

“He’s never beaten me. But I’m willing to fight all contenders. After Mike Weaver, I’ll go back and fight who’s in line.”

Thomas had announced earlier this week that he intends to fight all No. 1 contenders. Line ‘em up.

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Angelo Dundee nodded his approval. “Nobody has done that since Muhammad Ali.”

Ah, there it is again. The inescapable comparison to the man who was, without a doubt, the champion for a long, long time.

Dundee is still known as Ali’s trainer, even though he now calls Pinklon Thomas “my guy.”

Dundee said: “There is no heavyweight around who is going to beat Pinklon. He will be the top guy.”

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But will he ever be the kind of favorite that Ali was? Dundee shrugged it off. “We were spoiled,” Dundee said. “You can’t expect that. There’s not going to be another Muhammad Ali.

“What you’re going to get is a Pinklon Thomas. He will come out. He will blossom. It will take some time, but you’ll learn to love him. He’s a nice kid.”

Dundee figures that people will go for Pinklon Thomas’ story. He’s a kid who started to use drugs when he was 12, a guy whose faithful high school sweetheart became his wife and stood by him to get him off the streets of Detroit, a guy who got into boxing late and who didn’t have the Olympic showcase Ali had, a guy who lost his first few amateur fights but kept battling back, a guy who has had both hands broken and who just keeps fighting.

“When they know the story, they’ll love him,” Dundee said.

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Dundee is just as impressed with his guy’s jab. So is everyone else, for that matter. But Dundee says that Thomas can do it all.

“Pinklon can box with you, he can punch and he has great leg speed,” Dundee said. “He has a stinging jab. It’s the way he delivers it, with a bend in his knees. He’s a converted southpaw.

“I think his fight with Weaver is going to be a heck of a fight. (Weaver is) a former champ. He’s in great shape, too. We respect his camp. I think it’s going to be bombs away. But I think my guy can knock out Weaver.”

Thomas put it this way: “It is going to be a great day for me because it will be my first title defense, and I will be very victorious. I don’t look at it to go the distance, because I don’t see Mike Weaver having the tools to do it.

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“Mike Weaver has been down. He’s been out. And he’s going to be down and out again.”

Weaver, who grew up in Pomona and now lives in Diamond Bar, certainly has had his share of grief trying to play this game.

After winning the WBA title by knocking out John Tate in 1980, Weaver went to South Africa and successfully defended his title against Coetzee.

After that, boxing’s powers kept coming up with one reason after another why Weaver couldn’t sign for another big-money fight. A year later, he had his second title defense, against James (Quick) Tillis for a mere $750,000, and more than a year after that--and after several big deals had somehow fallen through--he finally agreed to give the title shot to Michael Dokes, who just happened to be managed by Carl King, son of Don King.

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That was the fight that referee Joey Curtis stopped in 63 seconds, and Weaver hasn’t seen his title since.

He did get a rematch with Dokes in 1983, but he lost a 15-round decision. Since then, he has been taking whatever he could get, waiting for another chance.

“It’s been two years since I have participated in a championship fight, and I often wondered if I ever would do it again,” Weaver said. “But here I am.

“There have been two heavyweight champions who ever lost their title and regained it (Floyd Patterson and Ali), and they made history. Be there. On June 15, it’s going to be three.”

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Weaver appears to be in great shape. As Don King said, in his usual manner, “Even Ray Charles can see that.”

Weaver’s trainer, Don Manuel said: “He’s in better shape than when he knocked out Coetzee and Tate. I don’t think it’s going to be no finesse anything.”

And indeed, Pinklon Thomas’ prediction included a threat: “I hear Larry Holmes is going to be there. I’m going to knock Mike Weaver right in his lap.”


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