Friday, September 20, 2019

The Thompson Boxing Way

Los Angeles and its immediate vicinity have been synonymous with boxing greatness for generations. With bright lights, big money, TV broadcasts, celebrities and legendary gyms, L.A. is the place where careers have been made. Even the mere mention of arenas such as The Forum, Staples Center and Stub Hub Center (now Dignity Health Sports Park) conjures instant memories of great fights and unforgettable moments from the sport. 

But head east out of Los Angeles, on I-10, Route 60, or I-210, and suddenly the imposing and magnificent visages of capitalism give way to a far different area. Forty miles or so will bring you to Ontario, and the beginning of the vast Inland Empire part of California. The Inland Empire is a densely-packed (over four million people) pocket of California surrounded by natural boundaries. It's due south of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. To the southwest is the Cleveland National Forest.  In between the ranges and the forests, you'll find lots of boxing fans in the Inland Empire's cities, towns and outposts. You've probably heard of a number of these places: Riverside, Covina, Ontario, San Bernardino and Corona. Big Bear Mountain, perhaps one of the most famous remote training camp locations in the U.S, is just to the north off Route 18. Continuing further east on I-10, Joshua Tree National Park creates another northern boundary while the San Jacinto Mountains block off the south. Now you're in the desert, the Coachella Valley, home to Palm Springs and Indio. 

These areas of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are the heart of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which has become one of the most successful local promoters in U.S. boxing over the past 20 years. From the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario to the Omega Products International in Corona, Thompson has not just built up a successful fight series in the Inland Empire, but they have created world champions and title contenders such as Tim Bradley, Yonnhy Perez, Josesito Lopez, Carlos Bojorquez, Juan Carlos Burgos, Mauricio Herrera, Jhonatan Romero and Daniel Roman. 

Alex Camponovo and Ken Thompson
Photo Courtesy of Thompson Boxing Promotions

Thompson Boxing started in 2000, almost as a lark. Wanting to help a friend raise money for his gym, Ken Thompson and Alex Camponovo decided to put on a boxing card. Although both were avid fans of the sport, neither had ever promoted a fight. And while that first card, which featured Bojorquez, brought in a lot of fans, the behind-the-scenes drama was something of a nightmare.
Yet they had fun. After that initial fight card Thompson and Camponovo decided to get into boxing for real. They would learn local boxing from the ground up and would take full responsibility for their cards – ticket selling, promotion, state licensing, fighter negotiations, procuring facilities and handling all of the finances. 

And unlike most startup boxing promoters, they decided to be patient. For four years they didn't sign fighters. Sure, they held cards, scouted the local talent, forged professional relationships and started to grow a consistent customer base, but they wanted enough time to study what worked. They needed to learn the ins and outs of matchmaking, which fighters would resonate with the crowd, and how to be prudent with their financial resources. The Inland Empire fight scene would in essence serve as their laboratory.

By 2004 they were ready to ink their first fighter, Palm Springs' Tim Bradley. Later that year Riverside's Josesito Lopez would become their second. Thompson (president) and Camponovo (matchmaker and general manager) displayed a keen eye for signing and developing talent even in the beginning. 

But ultimately what kept Thompson Boxing in business were the fans. And here Camponovo paints a clear picture of what the expectations are for Thompson Boxing and their loyal customers:

"Trying to do the best fights possible is our number-one thing, especially in the area where we do fights, the Inland Empire. I've seen other fights in the Orange County area [not Thompson Boxing's] and the fighters were just duking it out in the ring and showed not an ounce of boxing ability, just throwing an enormous amount of punches. The crowd would get rowdy and throw money in the ring. That doesn't happen here...

"If fighters are not capable, people start booing. We have a different type of crowd. First of all, we try to entertain everybody with competitive fights. We want people to fall in love with certain fighters. And they see them on a consistent basis. That's the key. They follow their progression. They see them in four-rounders, six-rounders, eight-rounders and finally headlining the main event. Then they're fighting for a regional title. Boom, now they're on ESPN, Showtime, DAZN. I think our crowd really likes to see the story of the fighters moving along the way."

Camponovo’s approach to matchmaking differs from others in the industry. Primarily he's in the boxing entertainment business; The Inland Empire fans need to leave satisfied. The crowd's desire to see competitive action dovetails with his philosophy of signing, matching and developing fighters. For him, the goal is to challenge fighters each step of the way, and not create untested boxers with inflated records. He wants to know what his fighters are made of and how they respond to adversity.   

"I can’t do anything with a guy who is 20-0 with 19 knockouts who is just blowing people away in the first round," he said. "I believe in toughing up the guys, as tough as they can handle. And that makes sense for the fans. That makes sense for us. We know what we have. We know the guys are developing. We see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Having one-round knockouts doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help the fighter. It doesn’t help their management or us as promoters. I think the consistency of having tough challenges for our guys – I’m not saying 100% of the time – but most of the time, makes a big difference."

Although Thompson Boxing doesn't have the ability to hand out enormous signing bonuses for untested talent, Camponovo follows a simple motto for fighters whom they do develop: You do everything you can for us in the ring and we'll do everything we can for you outside of it. For Thompson this often means partnering with other promoters to provide additional opportunities for their fighters, whether it was Gary Shaw for Tim Bradley, Matchroom Sport for Danny Roman or Banner Promotions for Michael Dutchover and Ruben Villa, two highly regarded prospects who will be appearing on ShoBox on Sept 20. 

For Camponovo, the big-time opportunities only come to those who put in the work in the gym, who are always available to fight, and who make the most of their talent: "I've always said give me a less-talented guy, but a guy who is in the gym 24-7. I’ll take that guy any day of the week. I know that he’s going to go farther. He might not be a world champion right away, but I know he’s going to go much farther than a talented guy who spars twice a week, handles everybody in the gym and thinks that because he is gifted, that’s all he needs to do. The greatest athletes in the history of the world – I don’t care what sport it is – are that way because they are working the hardest. They do have talent, but they have to work on that talent." 

Dutchover and Villa, two fighters who according to Camponovo have put in the work, have impressed in their developmental fights and are starting to receive national attention. If all goes well they could be fighting world-level opposition by the end of 2020, but Camponovo won't guarantee that – he has made sure that they are facing significant threats this weekend.  

Business is good for Thompson Boxing these days. With a unified world champion (Daniel Roman), several prospects starting to appear on U.S. TV and a healthy pipeline of younger fighters (Camponovo particularly likes undefeated welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz), Thompson has carved out a solid niche in the industry. Yet, despite their burgeoning national success, they have no plans to abandon their annual six-card series in the Inland Empire; they believe that the series has been crucial to their success and survival.

Just like their fighters, most of whom were once beneath the radar of the big promoters, Thompson Boxing retains their humility and knows that they have to work harder to succeed. They've been able to get a foothold into boxing, but they don't believe in shortcuts or resting on their laurels – not for their fighters or for themselves. Thompson's success can be attributed to discipline, loyalty, consistency, competence and professionalism. Ultimately the Thompson Boxing Way may not be the sexiest, it may not necessarily be the blueprint for certain aspiring fighters or promoters, but there can be no argument that it has borne fruit.
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

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