I met former WBC heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas for the first time at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum during a boxing event in the late 1980’s. I was far from impressed. Being that Thomas was rarely in New York, his presence had created a small stir in the press section. He was seated directly behind me. I turned around and introduced myself. Thomas was happily high, shaking my hand and mumbling something I could not understand. He was clearly not in a good place. I pitied him. The future did not look bright.
Fast forward to 2018 and Thomas is a picture of stability, a voice of reason. He has become a friend, a man I speak on the phone with frequently and who along with our wives are scheduled to have a lunch date this summer when the Orlando residents will be in New York on vacation.
The autobiography of Pinklon Thomas’ is appropriately named BACK FROM THE EDGE OF HELL. As a youth he had committed so many crimes, robbed so many establishments that it got to the point where he had to hide out in his own neighborhood for fear of being recognized. There were people in high places who wanted him dead. And when that was not happening the strong grip of the law was always on his trail. The ironic part of all this is that Thomas came from a stable middle class family, one that had tried to instill values in him.
Thomas’ life had been chaotic to say the least. In his book he details the dark side of the sport, how he was taken advantage of and tricked into signing a contract he did not want to. And no, it was not Don King who Thomas only has glowing things to say of.
It is fascinating reading as Thomas takes us through the wild ride that culminated in him winning the WBC crown from a peak Tim Witherspoon in 1984, then the frustration of not getting his ultimate fight that being against Larry Holmes when both held a version of the title.
At his peak Thomas was an outstanding fighter. For a short period of time he was considered the best heavyweight in the world as Holmes’ title reign was nearing its end. His jab was arguably as good as Holmes’. However, substance abuse problems cut Thomas’ prime short, the downward spiral beginning when he dropped his title to Trevor Berbick by a close decision in 1986, a fight which he was not well prepared for. Something indirectly positive did come out of the loss, not for Thomas but for the boxing community at large. HBO as an experiment had New York judge Harold Lederman at ringside in Las Vegas, acting as an unofficial judge to see if there would be any value in doing it in the future. The close decision was a perfect scenario for them, convincing HBO to use Lederman on a full time basis. Reflecting on his over 30 years at HBO, Lederman says, “everyone expected Pinklon to belt Berbick right out. Had he done so I might never have had my career at HBO.” Thomas’ loss was the catalyst for ushering in the era of the unofficial judges’ working boxing telecasts.
The years of abusing his body took its toll. Thomas would never be the same fighter again, but being a former champion guaranteed him no shortage of opportunities against big name opponents like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, and Tommy Morrison. He was highly competitive against Tyson at a time when Iron Mike was still considered invincible by some. And he boxed Holyfield after suffering a stroke that he somehow kept from the medical authorities. The bottom line was that all four stopped Thomas, ending his career on top level. With the big fights a thing of the past, Thomas went on the club circuit where he gained a level of redemption by reeling off 13 wins in a row which culminated in him beating Craig Payne by split decision in 1992, to win the IBO heavyweight title. Thomas would lose his next fight, then retire for good with a 43-7-1 (34) record.
With no fight to train for, Thomas’ habit went from bad to worse. Some tough love from his trainer Angelo Dundee helped as did the unwavering loyalty of wife DaJuana.
In time Thomas would defeat his toughest opponent and is now involved in a variety of projects. He has more than given back to society with his Project Pink which has led many kids on the right path. One of those was Antonio Tarver who was influenced positively by Thomas in his teenage years.
BACK FROM THE EDGE OF HELL is compelling reading and can be purchased through Amazon.