Interview - Former Heavyweight Champ Pinklon Thomas Fights for Project P.I.N.K.! By Ken Hissner (Aug 17, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
The once heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas who challenged and defeated “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon for the WBC heavyweight title title has now challenged keeping kids out of trouble. Now based out of Orlando, FL, Thomas has a non-profit (503-C1 tax status) organization that stands for “Pride In Neighborhood Kids” or otherwise called P.I.N.K.
Thomas knows what it’s like growing up in Pontiac, MI, where at 15 he was as big if not bigger than the gang he traveled with. Street fights were not uncommon. Eventually he would be introduced to the boxing game. With only three amateurs fights fighting out of the state of Washington Thomas turned professional at twenty in August of 1978 winning a six round decision over Portland’s Ken Arlt, 7-1, in Seattle, WA.
Three knockout wins would follow for Thomas in the state before moving up to a ten round main event stopping in five rounds veteran Elmo Tex Henderson, 27-17, of San Antonio, TX, in Billings, MT, in April of 1974. In July of 1979 he stopped his ninth straight opponent in Leroy Caldwell, 21-18-4, in Las Vegas. Caldwell was 8-1-2 in his previous eleven fights holding future WBC champion Trevor Berbick and European champion Jose Urtain to draw decisions.
A converted southpaw Thomas had a superior jab against his opponents. In his twelfth bout he stopped Jerry Williams, 2-0, on a cut left eye in five rounds in Miami Beach. This would be the first of three bouts with Williams. In their second meeting Thomas broke both of his hands but still managed to win a ten round decision. For some reason Williams asked for a third fight and was knocked out in the second round. This was his last fight before stepping up the competition and meeting James “Quick” Tillis, 22-1, in Cleveland in August of 1982. The bout was stopped in the eighth round by the referee and Thomas was on his way. “I was supposed to fight Tim Witherspoon and it fell through. I went out and did some partying and got a call to fight Pinklon Thomas. I didn’t want to cancel so I fought him and got my ass kicked. He was a good fighter,” said Tillis.
In January of 1983 Thomas was matched with hard punching South African Gerrie Coetzee, 28-3, in Atlantic City. Coetzee took the early rounds and Thomas came on and had Coetzee’s left eye brow cut and bleeding down the side of his face the last couple of rounds of the fight. It looked like Thomas would get the win but the judges saw it as a draw. For Thomas the draw with the high ranked Coetzee only moved him up the rankings.
Four more wins by Thomas followed including stoppages of Alfonzo Ratliff, 16-1 and Michael Greer, 17-3-2. After the fourth win he was told he would get a title shot with “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 18-1, for his WBC title in Las Vegas. Thomas was 25-0-1 with 19 knockouts and had earned the chance. What Thomas did not tell his then trainer Angelo Dundee that while sparring he was seeing double in the one eye in fear of the fight being cancelled.
In a fight where two jabbers are involved no one has to say “don’t jab with the jabber”. When the scores were read the first one was 114-114. The next two were 115-112 and 116-112 for the “new” heavyweight champion of the world Pinklon Thomas. A dream had come true that he once told his first trainer Joe West. It was discovered he had a detached retina and would not be fighting for ten months.
The first defense for Thomas was against the former WBA champion Mike Weaver who had wins over Tillis and Coetzee. Thomas had Weaver down in the first round. Weaver was a hard hitter so Thomas couldn’t take him lightly. Weaver had come back from the dead to stop John Tate in the last round in winning the title. Thomas had Weaver down again in the eighth round when the referee Carlos Padilla stopped the fight. Thomas was ahead on one card and even on the other two. “I was concentrating on his jab and never saw his right coming,” said Weaver.
Nine months would pass by before Thomas had another defense and this was against Jamaican Trevor Berbick, 30-4-1, in Las Vegas in March of 1986. He was having trouble with his wife and for the first time he did not hear her or his son’s voices yelling out at ringside. She decided to stay home. His trainer Dundee also didn’t show concerned he wasn’t going to get paid. It was a dark time for a champion going into a title defense. When it was all over Thomas lost his crown 115-114 and 115-113 twice.
Thomas had three knockouts and was told he had a chance for another title with the conqueror of Berbick, Mike Tyson, 29-0, for both the WBC and WBA titles. It was May of 1987. In sparring he heard a popping noise and knew there was something wrong in his right shoulder than was preventing him from using his right hand normally. After a poor start Thomas seemed to have a good fifth round but discovered going back to his corner his one glove had a split in it. It took ten minutes to replace it and that was to the younger Tyson’s advantage. This time it was Thomas referee Padilla would rescue.
It would be nineteen months before Thomas would fight again. It would be against another young lion in Evander Holyfield, 19-0, the former cruiserweight champion in Atlantic City. The fight was one sided with Holyfield stopping Thomas in his corner at the end of the seventh round. Thomas knew he was not 100% himself. He was depressed and entered a drug re-hab.
It would be seventeen months before Thomas would fight again. He came in at his career highest at 223. He won a ten round decision over Curtis Isaac, 12-7, at the Palace, in Auburn Hills, MI. In his next fight he was even heavier at 227 and it cost him against Mike “The Bounty Hunter” Hunter, 14-2-2 at Fort Bragg, NC, losing in ten rounds. The fights were only three weeks apart. Then the unwise move to take on future world champion Riddick Bowe, 18-0, in DC in September of 1990. It was one thing not ducking anyone but you have to make decision who and when and his management wasn’t doing what was right. Again in at 227 Thomas was stopped in his corner at the end of the eighth round.
Five months later another young lion was brought in named Tommy “Duke” Morrison, 25-0, in his home area of Kansas City, MO. In the very first round Thomas suffered from a nasty vertical cut over his right eye coming down through his eyebrow. The ring physician stopped in between rounds.
At this time in his career Thomas started working with young boxers not knowing what his future would hold for him. He started working with young kids of which one was named Antonio Tarver in 1991. An idea was presented to Thomas to go on a southern route campaign. He won twelve straight with only three opponents with winning records and knocking out ten of them from May of 1992 until October when he stopped Mike Owens, 8-1-1. This set the stage to fight the giant Craig Payne, 7-1-1, who beat Tyson in the amateurs and hit the scale for this one at 286. A new organization out of FL, the International Boxing Organization’s vacant heavyweight belt was up for grabs. It wasn’t an easy fight but Thomas became the IBO’s first heavyweight champion winning a split decision over twelve rounds. Just two months later he fought for the vacant World Boxing Federation title against former top amateur and now professional Lawrence “Poncho” Carter, 21-5, in Columbia, South Carolina. Thomas had taken one fight too many when the referee stopped the bout in the seventh round.
At thirty-four Thomas knew it was over. His final record was a respectful l 43-7-1 with thirty-four knockouts. If there was one other profession he could relate to it would be how to council on drugs and alcohol and what not to do and why. Today Thomas thanks God for the opportunity to give what he didn’t receive one way or another.
Philanthropist John Pierson owner of Toyota of Stuart who unlike so many before him didn’t keep their promises kept his word. When he offered financing behind an idea to help the community especially the kids he came through. Joining them would be a former Vietnam veteran who spent twenty-three years in the Air Force retiring due to a disability, Ramsey Harris, who would be a special co-ordinator for the group. The group P.I.N.K. was on their way.
I had met Pinkon Thomas years ago when he trained at the Montgomery County Boy’s Club in Eagleville, PA, ran by Steve Traitz, Sr. I remember after a workout with the big heavyweight Joe Thomas when Traitz taking the hat off his own head putting it on Thomas and saying “you shouldn’t go out in the cold without a hat.” That was Steve Traitz for you. Both his son’s Stevie and Joey along with countless others were part of the program there. “I had Berbick, Witherspoon, Jimmy Clark, Tex Cobb and Roy Williams work with Joe Thomas. Only Pinklon Thomas could give Joe Thomas work with that jab of his. I really like him,” said Steve Traitz. I called Pinklon through Vic deWysocki, a PA, DE and MD referee. Pinklon was kind enough to answer some questions mainly about P.I.N.K.
KEN H: It was good talking to you again for it’s probably been over twenty years since you were at Steve Traitz MCBC gym sparring Joe Thomas. Remember those old days?
PINK T: Oh yeah. Steve was a great guy. I would spar with big Joe Thomas at their gym.
KEN H: You won your first fifteen fights and moved to Wyncote outside of Philly. Did George Benton take over the training then?
PINK T: I signed with the Duva’s and George was their trainer. He was a great asset to me.
KEN H: When did Angelo Dundee take over as your trainer?
PINK T: When I was trying to get a title fight Don King had almost all the heavyweights. I told Lou I was going to approach King. King told me whatever expenses you owe the Duva’s I will take care of and did. I thought I might need a big name trainer so I contacted Angelo Dundee who took over as my trainer.
KEN H: I understand you broke your hands four times. Tell me about it.
PINK T: I broke my hand for the first time against Leroy Caldwell (10th fight). Then again in the first fight with Jerry Williams. Six months later I broke both hands in my second fight with Williams.
KEN H: Your first major fight was with James “Quick” Tillis who was 22-1 at the time in 1982. You stopped him in the eighth round in Cleveland.
PINK T: I had studied tapes on Tillis and got into a good rhythm in that fight.
KEN H: Next you fought a real puncher in Gerrie Coetzee with the “bionic fist” to a draw. I thought you won that fight. Tell us a little about it.
PINK T: I thought I won the fight too. He could punch but he didn’t have much else to offer.
KEN H: In 1984 you finally get your title fight with Philly’s “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon who like yourself had a very good jab. Did you follow a game plan to box him or figure you were a better puncher?
PINK T: I knew he had a good jab but I felt I had a better one and took that away from him.
KEN H: After winning the title from Witherspoon I understand you had an eye problem sparring before his fight. Tell us about that.
PINK T: I got hit with a left hook in sparring in Las Vegas. It ended up I had a detached retina. When I told Don (King) he said I would have to retire. I told him I didn’t come this time far to retire. I could see double in the injured eye. I got it taken care of after the Witherspoon fight. I saw Don recently in Florida when he got inducted into their Hall of Fame. I really loved the guy. If he promised me something he always came through.
KEN H: Your first defense was against Mike “Hercules” Weaver the former champ and a good puncher. You dropped him in the first round and the eighth and final round. Were you concerned about his punching power and didn’t want to go in and finish him off?
PINK T: I knew he could punch but knew it was a matter of time.
KEN H: You were having trouble at home for the next defense with Trevor Berbick. Your wife and son didn’t come to the fight as they usually did. You always heard them yelling for you.
PINK T: I was having personal problems and wasn’t myself.
KEN H: Angelo Dundee also was not there for the Berbick fight. Was it a money problem?
PINK T: Yes, he thought he might not get paid. I missed him being there. I had Willard Barber from Philly in the corner and when I got back to the dressing room there was Joe West my amateur trainer. He was always there for me. He was a real great guy.
KEN H: After coming back with three wins you face Berbick’s conqueror Mike Tyson. I understand you hurt your right shoulder sparring. Tell us about that and the fight with Tyson.
PINK T: Dundee didn’t want me to take the fight. I thought I could beat Tyson with my jab. I was starting to win a couple of rounds when my glove split. It took about nine minutes to get a new glove and several minutes before we continued. By then I had lost my rhythm.
KEN H: You go nineteen months without a fight and take on unbeaten former crusier champ Evander Holyfield. Was it all about the money you were taking on these tough young fighters?
PINK T: I wasn’t taking good care of myself. I had separated from my wife.
KEN H: Two fights after losing to Holyfield you lose to Mike “Bounty Hunter” Hunter. That must have been an all time low for you. Not only do you lose to him but three months later you take a match with unbeaten Riddick Bowe. Discuss this.
PINK T: Hunter was a classic clown. Bowe was very big. I was not 100% for either.
KEN H: Next up you take on another unbeaten puncher Tommy “The Duke” Morrison. You go into Kansas City where he must have had thousands of fans. I saw the fight and you got a nasty cut above and through your eyebrow when they stopped it after the round.
PINK T: I couldn’t believe how all his punches hurt. I thought there was something suspicious about it.
KEN H: Who decided some fifteen months after losing to Morrison you would take the southern route and knockout eleven of your thirteen opponents who were not exactly contenders?
PINK T: Dick Fleming from Orlando had the idea of fighting all these guys and getting a title bout.
KEN H: You fight big and I do mean 286 pounds big Craig Payne for the first IBO title. How did your split decision win go?
PINK T: It was a tough fight. I should have never come back in just two months to fight Carter. I had bad headaches after that fight.
KEN H: Yes your last fight is with Lawrence “Poncho” Carter for the WBF title. When you lost did you know it was over?
PINK T: Around the sixth round my legs were gone. I knew coming back in two months after my fight with Payne was too soon. I got hit in the seventh round and woke up with paramedics on my way to the hospital. When I got there they said I had bleeding from the brain and if it didn’t soon stop I would have to be operated on. On by God’s blessings did it stop at 6 am.
KEN H: You never got the chance to fight Larry Holmes whom I wrote about as the “most arrogant boxer of all time”. Witherspoon and Carl “The Truth” Williams got robbed by Holmes and never got rematches. I understand about ten years ago you and Witherspoon were to meet and Holmes fight the winner. What happened there?
PINK T: It never worked out. I would have loved to fight Larry.
KEN H: You are now working to help kids with your program P.I.N.K. Tell us something about it and the people who are working with you.
PINK T: I’ve been clean for twenty-three years. I am trying to explain to kids that drugs and alcohol are not good for you and you can make something out of your life.
KEN H: My last question is how has God figured into your life?
PINK T: I had been running in the cold weather and the sweat went into my ear. I sparred and collapsed twice. I couldn’t get up the second time. I had a stroke during my career and lost use of my left arm and leg. I had to lay on the floor to sleep and sit with my back to the sofa to eat. I slurred my words. One day almost two months later it took about an hour and a half to get dressed and I got down the steps and my wife and her friends were there and they asked where I was going and I told them out to run. They told me I couldn’t run in the snow. I would fall down and there would be no one to help me. It took me an hour and a half to go a mile but by the Grace of God I made it. I went to the gym with my father and couldn’t use my arm to throw a jab. I had to paw at the bag but I eventually worked my way back. I re-habilitated myself through the Grace of God.
KEN H: Pinklon that is some story. You have a real testimony.
PINK T: Maybe I can come to one of your Calvary Chapel churches and give it some day.
KEN H: We had Ebo Elder from Atlanta come up and I am sure you would be more than welcomed to come to Philly to do that. Brother, it’s been my pleasure to interview you. God is good.
PINK T: We are having a meeting about Project Pink soon and I hope this story can be on our website. I have a story to tell.
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