PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                             September 24, 2004 - Courier Post


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Ex-middleweight teaches boxing at Washington Township Gymnasium

By TIM ZATZARINY JR. - Courier-Post Staff
(This article was originally published in the Courier Post on 9/24/04)

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 boxer.

"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 ring.

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 Powerhouse Gym.

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.'





Tim Zatzariny, Jr. - Courier Post - September 24, 2004