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John Thompson talks about life-changing 2015 and upcoming world title shot

By Ian Aldous: On October 10th, John ‘Apollo Kidd’ Thompson (17-1) looks to cap a stunning calendar year when he faces the undefeated Brit, Liam Smith (20-0-1), in a battle for the WBO world junior-middleweight championship, at the Manchester Arena in England. Last week, Thompson took some time to chat with me about winning the Boxcino junior-middleweight tournament and the rewards he’ll hope to reap from it.

Just twenty-four hours before the 2015 Boxcino junior-middleweight tournament was scheduled to start – John Thompson wasn’t even in it. He was an alternate sat patiently waiting in the wings. Cleotis Pendarvis failed to make weight for his bout and the rest is history. “They told me that I possibly may be in the fight. My promoter told me ‘stay ready for anything – you never know what’s gonna happen’. Sure enough, they called me and told me ‘just come up to the weigh-in just in case’ and on my way up there they called and said ‘hey, Cleotis is five pounds over’ and it turned out for the best!”

Thompson then proceeded to score decision victories over Ricardo Pinell and Stanyslav Skorokhod before meeting Brandon Adams in the tournament final. The combined records of his three opponents was a very credible (36-2-1). “Each opponent was different and unique in their own way, you know. I had my first opponent which was Ricardo Pinell who was somewhat unorthodox and kind of all over the place. Then I had to switch it up for Stanyslav Skorokhod who was (a) very stern boxer and just kinda straight up and a strong come-forward type of guy. Then I had Brandon Adams who wanted to come out there and just swing and (throw) all power shots. It was pretty difficult but you know, I had to overcome it.”

The final was something that was supposed to be a bridge too far for the unfancied Thompson. He was a huge betting underdog going into it and Brandon Adams, who lost the 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament final to Willie Monroe Jr. was surely going to go one step further this year. Adams came out surprisingly and overly aggressive and ‘Apollo Kidd’ countered to great effect. “No, I wasn’t surprised. I expected him to do what he did and I went in there to do what I did. My main goal was just (to) box, you know, and everything else came off that.”

Prior to the referee belatedly calling a halt to the contest in the second round, Teddy Atlas on Commentary for what was the final ever broadcast of ESPN Friday Night Fights, was yelling at him to stop the fight. Adams took several shots that were not nice to see as referee David Mendoza amazingly watched on. “I believe if the shoe was on the other foot it would have been a stoppage. I watched the video a couple of times after and you see the second time when I had him on the ropes, the referee could actually have stopped it, he gave him an eight-count instead and during him giving the eight-count he was actually holding Brandon up. He was holding him up – I believe that’s illegal (laughs).”

As a result of the success of Boxcino for Thompson – he instantly earned top ten world rankings with both the WBA and WBO. He’ll follow in the footsteps of Willie Monroe Jr. who fought for a world title after winning the 2014 middleweight Boxcino. “I expected my shot to be soon. I’m not gonna say that I thought it would take a year or so because I saw how it happened for Willie Monroe and I definitely expected for me to get my opportunity soon. When the moment came I chose to seize it.” He continued to talk about the circumstances surrounding him getting his shot. “It was not necessarily a shocker but it was like everything just fell right into place because firstly you had Demetrius Andrade who actually lost the belt because he hasn’t fought or whatever. Then you had Michel Soro and they had disagreements in his camp, and boom – it’s my turn again (laughs).”

So far in his pro career, Thompson has fought exclusively on U.S soil. October 10th will change that as he crosses ‘the pond’ to fight in Manchester, England against undefeated former British and Commonwealth champion, Liam Smith. “I watched him fight a few times on youtube. He had two fights this year in March and April. Every fighter doesn’t fight everyone the same, so I’ll leave it up to my team to work on things that we feel will make him vulnerable or make myself vulnerable.”

There’s rarely a dull atmosphere for any fight night in the UK – let alone a card headlined by two world championship bouts. Smith Vs. Thompson will co-feature alongside the headline attraction of Terry Flanagan defending his WBO world lightweight title against Diego Magdaleno. A hostile and feisty atmosphere is inevitable, so Thompson and Magdaleno may have to thrive on that. “I’m a performer, you can’t let someone else dictate your fight, especially not a crowd. At the end of the day it’s only going to be me and Liam in that ring.”

At the very beginning of 2014, Frank Galarza inflicted the first and only defeat John has suffered as a pro. A competitive and close first round was followed by an ambush within eight seconds of the second stanza and a nasty knockout loss was suffered. A thirteen month period of inactivity led to the events that turned his career on its head. “What happened was, after the loss they tried to make me stay out of the gym (laughs). I think it was June or July I got into a motorcycle accident. I got cut-off and hit by a Jeep – a hit and run. It cut my left arm, my left forearm across and I didn’t cut any major nerves or anything but I had to take a couple more months off.”

So, just eight months after being an alternate for a tournament he should never have won, John Thompson stands on the verge of completing a minor miracle. Surely it seems surreal to him to be at the centre of it. “When an opportunity comes knocking, you’ve gotta answer the door.”

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