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Reaching the Mountain Top – Up Close and Personal with Former WBC Heavyweight Champion Pinklon Thomas

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

“Winning the WBC Heavyweight Championship of the World is an event I will cherish for the rest of my life.”—Pinklon Thomas

Pinklon Thomas came into this world at the end of the reign of the only undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World who was known as the original “Rock”, and was none other then, Rocky Marciano. And, when he turned professional in 1978, he came along at the end of yet another era for a Heavyweight Champion; this one nicknamed “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali.

Thomas in his trademark pink shorts, made his way up the heavyweight ranks, building his record and fan base that saw him win the WBC Heavyweight Championship of the World on August 31, 1984, when he defeated “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, over 12 rounds. This win cemented his name in the history of the coveted heavyweight division, and no doubt will remain a close thing to his heart.

In the early 1980’s a pre “Bad” Brad Berkwitt who attended Pontiac Central High School in Pontiac, Michigan, watched with great anticipation of “Pinky” as we called him to get his shot at the title because as I did, he went to Pontiac Central High School. The one time of probably many he came there, I was unable to get up to the basketball game he attended to meet him in person, but my buddies told me he was a very nice guy and hung out after the game.

With memories like this from my childhood, it’s now an honor to have the opportunity to bring the readers interviews with guys that my age group grew up with and I have no doubt, have fond memories of.

BB: In your 15 years since you retired from boxing, what have you been up to?

I moved down to Orlando, Florida and got involved with the Center for Drug Free Living which helps substance abused, physically abused kids and works with teens with problems in Orlando. They are sentenced to the program through the Orlando juvenile justice system.

In this program, I have worked in many capacities as a youth specialist and counselor.

BB: You turned professional in 1978. That was the year that pretty much ended the Muhammad Ali era. What are your observations of the heavyweight division at the time of his departure?

That was the year Ali fought Leon Spinks and was upset in their first meeting in February of the year, only to come back in September of the same year, and become the only man to win the Heavyweight Championship for the third time. Up until that point in boxing history no one had done that.

It was a tough era in the heavyweight division because you really had a change of guard with guys such as Larry Holmes, Greg Page, and Tim Witherspoon to name just a few were coming along as well as me. We all had a tough act to follow when Muhammad Ali was out of the picture.

BB: In your fourth year as a pro, you start really coming into your own when on, August 14, 1982, you face top ranked former Heavyweight Title challenger James “Quick” Tillis. In a fight that was televised on TV, you were supposed to be just a stepping stone for “Quick”. You proved many wrong, when you stopped him in eighth round. What are your recollections of the fight?

It was funny because at that time, I was training at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia. At that time, I was training to fight Jeff Shellburg in Atlantic City. Two days before the Shellburg fight, I get a call from Cleveland that Witherspoon had pulled out of the fight against “Quick” for some reason I can’t recall. Georgie Benton knew I was in great shape and had really been training. We took the fight with them thinking I was a pushover.

“Quick” didn’t hurt me in the fight and I was ready to face someone in the top ten so I could make a name for myself on the boxing scene. Once I had a big win like this over a top ten guy, I made a concerted effort to get out and meet the boxing fans. Since I wasn’t known, I would stay after the big guys would leave out, signing match boxes to toilet paper, as long as it made the fans happy. I wanted the boxing folks to know me and enjoyed every bit of meeting with them. (**These are the kinds of answers I truly enjoy in doing this job. The fans are what make all of us and without them, we would not be here.)

BB: Beating Tillis places you in the title sweepstakes of the heavyweight division. In your next fight, you face another top ten fighter, along with former Heavyweight Title challenger named Gerrie Coetzee. In this fight, you earn a draw. What do you recall about this fight?

It was funny how things worked after the win over Tillis in the political landscape of boxing. Don King pretty much had the top ten in the heavyweight division. Tillis had King behind him and had he beat me, he was supposed to fight Larry Holmes for the title. As you know, Larry Holmes for whatever reason would not fight me.

Don King wanted me to come and sign with him, but at that time, I was with the Duva’s promotional group. It was hard to get a top ten fighter, but Coetzee was with Bob Arum so I got to fight him. I really don’t think the fight was a draw. The early rounds I admit I may have given up a few, but after the fifth round, I really started busting him up. Coetzee was very tough, but very well protected by his handlers.

BB: After the Coetzee fight, you reel off four wins and reach the dream that every fighter has and that is, to challenge for the Championship Belt of their respective weight class. Your dream turns to reality on August 31, 1984, when you face then WBC Heavyweight Champion “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon. You win the belt with a 12 round decision. Describe the ring walk and your feeling after you heard the announcer say, “And the new Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Walking into the ring, I knew I was fighting a guy who was young, strong and had some good talent. But, I had him down pretty much because I knew his style very well. My jab was better, and my right hand was thrown much straighter.

When they announced my name as the winner, I have always said, “It was like a hundred pounds were lifted off my shoulders.” That was a blessing and hard to put in words how wonderful it was to me on that special night.

BB: In your first defense, you face former WBA Heavyweight Champion Mike “Hercules” Weaver. In an exciting fight, you bomb him out in the eighth round. What are your recollections about the fight?

Weaver was one tough cookie in the ring. I had a lot of respect for Weaver, not so much in the ring, but out of it because he was the former WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World. I knew when we signed to fight him; I had my work cut out. He was a good puncher who was always just a punch away from winning a fight as he did against “Big” John Tate.

BB: In your second defense, you face Trevor Berbick who you drop a very close decision to for your belt. Looking back, do you feel the decision was fair? Also, what are your recollections of the fight?

I don’t think the decision was fair. Not to make excuses, but I was really going through some personal problems at the time. It was difficult to deal with which had me coming in not at 100% in the ring and be able to do what I had done to Weaver in my previous title defense. The big deal at that time was King as I said earlier, had the top ten heavyweights at this time in boxing. He didn’t have Berbick or me under his control. Weeks before the fight, he tried to romance me as he does with any fighter and also was doing it to Trevor. Just about a week before the fight, he got to Berbick and he signed with him. I stayed independent and who knows if that affected the outcome of the fight or not? Hey, I can’t knock King for handling his business. But, he did give me another opportunity to fight for the belt when I went up against Mike Tyson.

BB: On May 30, 1987, you face a young, seemingly indestructible “Iron” Mike Tyson for his WBC Belt that he took by destroying Trevor Berbick. For the first time in your career, you are knocked out. What are your observations of a young Tyson? Also, what do you recall about your performance that evening in Las Vegas?

Mike was a real good fighter, but I also think at that time, he was vulnerable to get beat with the style that Buster Douglas ultimately used in beating him, which I thought I had as well. Before our fight, I was working with “Scrap Iron” Johnson and during sparring I exchanged right hands with my sparring partner and my right shoulder popped. I went to a chiropractor and they didn’t do much there for me.
A few weeks before the fight, Angelo Dundee my trainer, told me not to take the fight, but I figured I could beat him with my jab which was pretty good. But, I found out in the fight, I could not stick and move which caused me to get caught and that was the end of the fight.

BB: One thing I must commend you on in your career. You took on some tough guys and in your very next fight after being stopped by Tyson; you face a young Evander Holyfield. What are your recollections of this fight and did you feel Holyfield would go on to be a four time Heavyweight Champion of the World?

At that time, I was very excited to get this fight because in Evander’s first fight at heavyweight, he fought “Quick” Tillis who I knocked out and he also beat. When I was preparing for Holyfield I was staying in Miami, Florida doing a lot of road work at the time and running in 10k marathons quite a bit. Angelo Dundee told me to slow down or it would take me legs from me. He was right and it did when I came to fight. Holyfield was young and fast, but not someone with great power. He was just very accurate and had great speed. But, yes, I could see his potential to go on and become the champion he has in boxing.

BB: Two years later, you face another soon to be Heavyweight Champion of the World when you face Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe. He stops you in the sixth round of the fight. Did you see the potential in him to be a Heavyweight Champion?

When I fought Bowe, I can remember Rock Newman making a big deal about the fight because it was in front of his hometown crowd in Washington, DC. I knew once I got him hurt, I would have to take him out. And, sure enough in the fourth round, I hurt him, landing some good shots. Low and behold, the referee came in to stop the action because of some tape on my glove was loose. This gave Riddick a huge breather. After the action started back, I had expended my energy in that flurry trying to get rid of him.

I knew he had a lot of potential because he was a true heavyweight that could punch, and had a decent jab which took him all the way to the Heavyweight Championship.

BB: In a successful career that lasted almost 15 years, who do you feel was your toughest opponent and why?

I would have to say Craig Payne for the IBO Heavyweight Title that I made a comeback for in 1992. He was about 280 LBS and 6’2. He had fought a lot of the big guys who were tough which make you tough in most cases. In fact, at that time, he was a sparring partner for George Foreman who kicked him out of his camp after about a week of sparring with him. Do you know how George never sat down between rounds? Well, Payne did the same thing for 12 rounds against me. That was intimidating to me, but it caused me to give it my all.

BB: Were there any big fights that you wanted or were scheduled, but never materialized for you?

In 1989, George Foreman had an agent in my area in Florida whose name slips me. Foreman had just fought Manuel Clay De Almedia who he stopped in three rounds. George’s agent came down to my training camp with a 1.5 million dollar contract for me to sign to fight George. It was on Good Friday. At that point, I was sparring when he came in the gym. My manager and I sat down with him and decided we would wait till after the holidays to sign and kind of play hard ball. Well, we waited till Monday and were invited to go to church with my then manager. While at church, he told our wife’s to go on ahead because he needed to talk to me.

He sat down, and then said, “Pink sit down. I have something to tell you.” From there, he proceeded to tell me that Foreman’s agent had a heart attack the night before we were going to sign the contract for that huge money fight. His death ended the fight with George Foreman. The only other fight that I really wanted was against Larry Holmes who I felt ducked me. I had a big beef with Larry because of what he did to Ali in the ring and that in turn, made me want to do the same thing to him in the ring if given a shot to do so.

That was in the past because today, I am very friendly with Larry Holmes.

BB: If you had to pick one heavyweight from the year you turned professional in 1978 until today, who do you feel dominated your division and why?

I would have to say Evander Holyfield. He fought and beat Riddick Bowe the second time around. Also, he beat Tyson twice, and I think he beat Lewis the second time around along with wins over Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Michael Moorer. I really have a lot of respect for him because he surrounded himself with good people, along with being a good business man himself. It’s an honor to have been in the ring with him and to this day, we still have functions we go to together with Angelo Dundee and Muhammad Ali.

BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

I totally agree with the fact we need one for all boxers. So many boxers after the fight game are not fortunate to be physically, mentally or financially able to maintain their selves. It will be a very good thing to see it finally in place and I hope to be part of making it happen.

BB: Now that you are retired from boxing, how do you want your many fans to remember you?

I want them to remember me as a guy with a warm heart who is very giving and loves giving back to the world. In life, I want to help our children and I can do this through the blessings of God.

BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

“Do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Pinklon wanted to add the following to our interview:
I am proud today to say, that after boxing, I have no problems with anyone from my fighting days. I am doing very well outside of the boxing ropes and have a very beautiful wife and children that I am very proud of. Finally, I really want to thank you “Bad” Brad for giving me a chance to be heard in my own words on RSR.



Pinklon THOMAS
Professional Record: 51 fights; 43+ (34 KO’s), 1=, 7-
1984-1986: W.B.C. Heavyweight

– 1978 –

+ (Aug-29-1978, Seattle) Ken ARLT 6
+ (Oct-31-1978, Lacey) Mustafa El Amin ko 3

– 1979 –

+ (Jan-8-1979, Seattle) Roger Braxton kot 7
+ (Feb-20-1979, Seattle) Lew Lockwood ko 4
+ (Apr-7-1979, Billings) Elmo Henderson ko 5
+ (Apr-26-1979, Seattle) Foma Leota ko 2
+ (May-23-1979, Las Vegas) Lee Holloman ko 2
+ (Jun-7-1979, Portland) George Jerome ko 2
+ (Jul-2-1979, Sedro) Willie Stoglin ko 2
+ (Jul-18-1979, Las Vegas) Leroy Caldwell 10
+ (Dec-14-1979, Atlantic City) Bobby Jordan kot 5

– 1980 –

+ (Feb-10-1980, Miami Beach) Jerry Williams kot 5
+ (Jun-15-1980, Clarkston) Frank Brown ko 4
+ (Aug-28-1980, Las Vegas) Jerry Williams 10

– 1981 –

+ (Apr-16-1981, Seattle) Lee Mitchell ko 1
+ (Nov-25-1981, Philadelphia) Curtis Whitner ko 2

– 1982 –

+ (Jan-23-1982, Atlantic City) Johnny Warr 8
+ (May-23-1982, Atlantic City) Luis Acosta kot 2
+ (Jul-3-1982, Totowa) Jerry Williams kot 3
+ (Aug-14-1982, Cleveland) James TILLIS kot 8

– 1983 –

= (Jan-21-1983, Atlantic City) Gerrie COETZEE 10
+ (Mar-26-1983, Chicago) Alfonso RATLIFF kot 10
+ (Sep-24-1983, Totowa) Michael GREER ko 5
+ (Oct-27-1983, Atlantic City) Leroy Boone 10

– 1984 –

+ (Jun-20-1984, Hato Rey) Bruce Grandham kot 5
+ (Aug-31-1984, Las Vegas) Tim WITHERSPOON 12 (W.B.C., Heavyweight)

– 1985 –

+ (Jun-15-1985, Las Vegas) Mike WEAVER kot 8 (W.B.C., Heavyweight)

– 1986 –

– (Mar-22-1986, Las Vegas) Trevor BERBICK 12 (W.B.C., Heavyweight)
+ (Oct-16-1986, Aguadilla) Narciso Maldonado ko 5
+ (Nov-22-1986, Las Vegas) William Hosea kot 7

– 1987 –

+ (Mar-7-1987, Las Vegas) Danny Sutton kot 7
– (May-30-1987, Las Vegas) Mike TYSON kot 6 (World, Heavyweight)

– 1988 –

– (Dec-9-1988, Atlantic City) Evander HOLYFIELD retiring 8

– 1989: inactive –

-1990 –

+ (May-23-1990, Auburn Hills) Curtis Isaac 10
– (Jun-12-1990, Fort Bragg) Mike HUNTER 10
– (Sep-7-1990, Washington) Riddick BOWE kot 6

– 1991 –

– (Feb-19-1991, Kansas City) Tommy MORRISON retiring 2

– 1992 –

+ (May-29-1992) Herman Jackson ko 3
+ (Jun-27-1992, Greenville) Danny Sutton 10
+ (Jul-31-1992, Charlotte) Terry Miller ko 2
+ (Aug-1-1992, Forest City) Bobby T. JONES kot 1
+ (Aug-8-1992, Demopolis) James Smith ko 1
+ (Aug-14-1992, Greenville) Danny WOFFORD 10
+ (Aug-22-1992, Denver) Adolph Davis ko 1
+ (Sep-5-1992, Daytona) Larry BEILFUSS ko 1
+ (Sep-19-1992, Lumberton) Frankie HINES ko 1
+ (Sep-24-1992, Charlotte) Kevin Nesbeth ko 1
+ (Oct-2-1992, Sarasota) Dion BURGESS kot 5
+ (Oct-22-1992, Virginia Beach) Mike Owens kot 3
+ (Nov-14-1992, Greenville) Craig PAYNE 12

– 1993 –

– (Jan-29-1993, Columbus) Lawrence CARTER kot 7

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