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Lionell Thompson patiently waits and trains, knowing big-time fight is in his future

Buffalo native Lionell Thompson chuckles and admits that waiting seems to be the story of his boxing career.

The super-middleweight-title contender has gotten so used to waiting for a potential big prize-fighting payday that the latest roadblock preventing that from happening, the coronavirus pandemic, is not stressing him out.

Instead, Thompson patiently bides his time in his Las Vegas home, training on a nearby pathway. He runs, does push ups, sit ups and sprints. He shadow boxes in a nearby alley. He maintains his conditioning and ring skills the best he can so that if the pandemic ends, he’ll be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

The 34-year-old veteran has become relevant in a fickle sport. That’s what happens when you knock off a former world champion on a televised card on Showtime.

“(The pause) doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Thompson, who is ranked eighth in the world by and No. 9 by the International Boxing Federation. “I’m just sharpening my focus. … I’m always going to find a way to get things done and keep my mind sharp.  … As long as I get where I’m trying to go, I don’t care (about the delay). I’m just waiting for this to be all over so I can get back to doing what I do best.”

What Thompson does best, of course, is box. He sticks. He moves. Thompson (22-5) lands more punches than he absorbs. His formula for success in the ring sounds simple but has taken years to perfect.

While that is no secret to fans who have followed his career since he was a world-class amateur, or to boxing people in Las Vegas who have seen him in the gym firsthand, those who have never heard of Thompson received an introduction during the first match of a televised card from Atlanta this past Christmas holiday season.

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Lionell Thompson, a five-time Golden Gloves Champion who attended Burgard High School and Buffalo State, works out at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center in January. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Thompson, a 10-to-1 underdog, defeated former world champion Jose Uzcategui via unanimous decision. Thompson knocked down Uzcategui in the first round, survived a point deduction for a “questionable hold,” and though Thompson didn’t end it with a KO, he controlled the bout from start to finish, landing more punches than his foe.

So much for Uzcategui taking the fast lane to earning another shot at the title. The championship fight that was supposed to go to the victor resulted in further review when Thompson raised his arms in victory.

“It’s never what they say,” said Don Patterson, Thompson’s trainer. “We got the fight because somebody else turned it down and we were able to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s all we’ve ever asked for, a fair opportunity that we belong among the best in the world and Lionell showed that Dec. 28.”

Still, Thompson has earned some spoils.

  • Two top 10 world rankings.
  •  More media attention for the lad who was the toughest pound-for-pound employee at the Tops Markets store he worked at while winning five state Golden Gloves championships.
  •  Let’s not forget a potential important prize fight against a to-be-determined contender with more perhaps down the road depending on his performance.
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Lionell Thompson, left, spars with Don Patterson during a training session at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center in January. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

The latter was supposed to happen this spring until the virus struck.

IBF champion Caleb Plant has been idle since a February win and is expected to fight in September – pandemic pending. It’s unknown who he will fight, although Plant’s on record as wanting to next fight fellow unbeaten WBC champion David Benavidez. In the business of boxing, there is no telling how that will play out. The IBF could select a mandatory foe.

Before the pandemic, Patterson said a possible opponent for Thompson could be third-ranked Caleb Truax (31-4-2), a former IBF world champion.

Regardless of his next opponent, it’ll be another life-changing fight for Thompson.

“All these fights at this level are tough fights,” Patterson said. “Cream of the crop. When you want to be champion of the world, that’s who you’ve got to face and that’s who you’ve got to beat.”

“This (pandemic) is impacting people worldwide,” Patterson said. “What you have to do is remain focused and stay ready for the day the opportunity comes because you’re going to have to take advantage of that. You’re going to have to do everything you can do to be successful.”

Which is why Thompson trains as if everything is normal, even though the bustling adoptive city he calls home is weirdly silent. It’s different not being able to go to the gym every day to hit punching bags or spar, luxuries he doesn’t have at home. But he's hungry and eager to continue proving himself.

“This is where the real work starts,” Thompson said. “Only the cream of the crop are going to get to that level where they can feed their family forever and be able to do something with their life.

“I just broke through, I’m about to make some money. … I will be super middleweight champion of the world.”

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