During my first visit to the Tommy Thomas Boxing Club (located on Duff Avenue in Clarksburg, West Virginia) I found myself in the ring with professional boxer Darren “Bam Bam” Abraham, scored an interview with a local news reporter from WDTV News. You never knew what was going to happen when you walked through the door. Although it was my father who introduced me to the sport, I fell in love with boxing at the Tommy Thomas Boxing Club in Clarksburg. Tommy was the trainer, a former professional boxer who’d been in there with heavyweight greats such as Leon Spinks, Jimmy Young, and Michael Dokes. His younger brother Jerry was the promoter who’d worked with legends of the industry such as Don King and Art Dore, the business mind responsible for the Original West Virginia Toughman Contest. In anticipation for the release of “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym,” I decided to check in with an old friend, the greatest boxing promoter in the history of West Virginia — Jerry Thomas.
In “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym” I outline the origins of the West Virginia Toughman Contest, particularly your relationship with boxing promoter Art Dore. Can you provide our readers with a brief overview of how Dore’s brainchild made it’s way to West Virginia?
JT: Toughman started in Bay City, Michigan in 1979. Art expanded into Ohio, then West Virginia. He contacted me to co-promote some events, which I did for a few years, then we changed our agreement into a “Franchise” agreement for the state of West Virginia. Art is still around and still active in business.
In West Virginia, winning your local Toughman is about more than local bragging rights. As a young man, I found inspiration in all of the West Virginia Toughman Champions who went on to become successful professional boxers, sometimes winning world titles and taking on boxing royalty (e.g. Christy Martin, Tommy Small). Give us your top 5 West Virginia Toughman Champions.
The top five West Virginia Toughman Champions would be Christy Martin, Tommy Small, Billy Fox, Mike Sheppard and Mike Snider.
My father received his start, as a boxing trainer, working corners at your West Virginia Toughman Contests. Can you share a brief memory from your time working with my father?
JT: Your father is one of my dearest friends, was always willing to help in any way that he could. Several years ago, the West Virginia Athletic Commission asked me to recommend some people who might be interested in becoming a referee and/or judge. I recommended your father. When I asked him if he was interested, his answer was that he would be honored to referee! Dave Johnson, from Morgantown (34 year veteran official and referee) trained and coached your father.
One of my underlying goals for “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym” was to tell the story of West Virginia boxing. Doing so would be impossible with paying homage to the accomplishments of your brother, Tommy Franco Thomas. He is, without question, one of the most accomplished professional boxers in the history of the state. How would you define Tommy’s legacy within the history of West Virginia boxing?
JT: His legacy continues today through the Tommy Thomas Boxing Club in Clarksburg, that he started shortly after he retired from fighting in 1986. I sponsor the gym along with the city of Clarksburg. The gym is located on Duff Ave inside the Clarksburg Rec Center, where any male or female age 10 or older can learn to box and use the facility free of any charge. Tommy’s boxing career and law enforcement career (D.A.RE. officer) has touched and influenced the lives of countless individuals in West Virginia.
I grew up on Tommy Thomas fight stories. Was his bout with Leon Spinks the biggest of his career?
Actually, Tommy’s biggest fights were versus Jimmy Young and Michael Dokes. The Young fight was a “Title Eliminator.” It was on the undercard a WBC world title fight in Pittsburgh, PA at the Civic Arena. Larry Holmes Vs Renaldo Snipes. We had an agreement with Don King, that if Tommy beat Young, he would get a shot at the Larry Holmes for the WBC World Heavyweight title. Unfortunately, he lost a close 10 round decision. A few months later, King offered him an NABF Heavyweight title fight versus undefeated Michael Dokes in Atlantic City, NJ. The fight was broadcast live on NBC.
As a promoter, you’ve worked with legends such as Don King, promoted shows across the U.S. (booked fighters for events in Mexico, Switzerland, Italy, South Africa, France, England, and Canada). Do you have a memory, show, or event that you are most proud to have been a part of?
JT: All the events that I have promoted have been in the US, however, I have booked many of our WV fighters in fights all over the world. Probably one of the most memorable fights was Tommy Small vs Julio Cesar Chavez. The fight was co-promoted by Don King and the state of Senola, Mexico and held in a baseball stadium in Chavez’s hometown of Culiacan. There 15,000 people in attendance. Tommy Small lost the fight, but did very well. I was in his corner along with his father Tom Small, Sr, who was his trainer.
The Toughman Contest is constantly evolving (new divisions, champion vs. champion matchups, etc.). What is next for the West Virginia Toughman?
JT: The event now features eight weight classes, four for men and four for women. We have a regional TV show that is on Suddenlink Cable and also available on video on demand via our web site wvtoughman.com and networkwv.com. The show is a two hour highlights show that features a different event each month. We are also working with veteran film producer Michael Ivey, who is working on a possible “Reality Show” about Toughman. We also continue to feature Pro boxing, Kick Boxing and MMA fights on most of our Toughman events.
To learn more about the Original West Virginia Toughman Contest, click HERE
To learn about the Tommy Thomas Boxing Club, click HERE
For more “Lo’s Gym” interviews, click HERE