PUNCHING POSTMAN DELIVERS
SKILLS OUTSIDE THE RING
Ex-middleweight teaches boxing at Washington Township
By TIM ZATZARINY JR.
- Courier-Post Staff
(This article was originally published in the Courier Post on
WASHINGTON TWP - Tony
Thornton wishes he could steal back the night he suffered
his worst defeat. It was a demoralizing end to a 13-year
career in which the Glassboro native brawled his way to the
stratosphere of professional boxing. He won two
championships and in 1995, earned a title shot against Roy
Jones Jr., then considered the world's best pound-for-pound
"Truthfully, I should have been retired before that fight,'
Thornton, 44, said in a recent interview. But the loss to
Jones didn't send Thornton, a middleweight and super
middleweight, spiraling into the abyss some boxers face when
they realize they're all punched out.
Instead, it helped Thornton see there was life outside the
During his fighting days, Thornton was nicknamed "The
Punching Postman' because he delivered mail during the day
and trained at night. He still works for the U.S. Postal
Service in Bellmawr, now as a customer service supervisor.
And he's still throwing punches, but in a different setting.
Thornton teaches boxing and a class he calls "box-aerobics'
at the Powerhouse Gym on Egg Harbor Road. His students
include a banker, a teacher and a nurse. On Mondays and
Wednesdays, Thornton leads them through an hour-long routine
of shadowboxing, jumping rope and working the heavy bag, all
to a dance-music soundtrack.
On Fridays, Thornton, who's stayed in fighting shape, climbs
into the gym's ring for one-on-one sparring sessions with
students of all skill levels.
"I don't care what kind
of shape you're in, if you think there's no skill in boxing,
get in the ring with a fighter,' he said.
Deptford resident Larry Hennessy, 57, started coming to
Thornton's classes 2 1/2 years ago. "I never knew anything
about boxing, now I can throw a punch,' said Hennessy, a
union pipefitter. "I don't know when I'll ever stop.'
After starting his professional career at the relatively
late age of 23, Thornton, a born slugger, won his first 17
fights. In November 1987, he lost his first title shot,
against Doug DeWitt for the United States Boxing
Association's middleweight belt.
Two years later, Thornton got another shot at the same title
and this time, he won a 12-round unanimous decision over
Mike Tinley in Atlantic City.
Two months later, an unfocused Thornton lost the title in a
unanimous decision to Kevin Watts. Thornton still has a
plaque hanging in his workout room from the International
Boxing Federation recognizing the fight as the upset of the
year. In July 1989, Thornton lost a nationally televised
fight to Steve Collins, who had taken Tinley's title.
After a period of heavy gambling and career inertia,
Thornton switched trainers and won nine straight, setting
himself up for his first world title shot, against super
middleweight Chris Eubank in Scotland in September 1992.
Thornton and some ringside reporters thought he won the
fight. But the judges gave the decision to Eubank.
Thornton would lose another world title fight to James Toney
in 1993. He didn't fight again for more than a year because
of a deteriorating left elbow that required surgery.
"My career was supposed to be over after the surgery,'
Thornton recalled. "But I came back and proved them wrong
and got (another) shot at the title.'
In January 1995, Thornton won the USBA's super middleweight
title with a second-round knockout of Darren Zenner at the
Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. That set Thornton up for the
biggest payday of his career: $250,000 to fight Roy Jones in
Jones' hometown of Pensacola, Fla.
Thornton was 35 -- ancient in boxing years -- and his elbow
was still giving him problems.
He was overwhelmed by the younger, faster Jones, who knocked
Thornton down at the end of the second round. The referee
stopped the fight 45 seconds into the third round after
Jones backed Thornton into the ropes and pummeled him with
more than 30 unanswered punches.
"That's when I knew it was time to go, when I didn't have it
anymore,' Thornton said. "I wasn't going to be a punching
bag for anyone.'
He retired, but his competitive fire didn't. Thornton toyed
with running and bodybuilding, before realizing he wouldn't
excel at either. In 2000, he began teaching boxing at a
karate school in Pitman. The following year, he moved to the
Thornton, who still lives in Glassboro, is the divorced
father of two teenagers.
"Would I do it again?' he asked. "Hell yes. If I could, I
would fight right now.'