Detroit boxer Thomas nears predicted title fight

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Detroit — Malik Thomas throws a couple left-right combinations into the air and looks for approval for his developing boxing skills.

“He will be a champ one day,” Isiah Thomas said of his son, all of 4 years old.

It wouldn’t be the first time greatness was predicted for a Thomas boy.

Nearly 25 years ago, Alex Thomas sat in a car with a friend and predicted his son, Isiah, would become an Olympic gold medalist and professional boxing champion.

Now 25, Isiah Thomas didn’t fight in the Olympics, but is one step from fighting for a world title.

A cruiserweight, Thomas (15-0, six knockouts) meets Murat Gassiev (22-0, 16 KOs) in an IBF elimination bout Friday night at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

“He is the truth,” Alex Thomas said. “Any time there is a big fight, he steps up. You can’t hit what you can’t see.”

Isiah Thomas honed his defensive style from the days he spent learning about boxing — and life — as a kid at Kronk Gym. An elementary school class clown, his father threatened to toss him into a boxing ring to teach him a lesson.

Thomas didn’t listen, and his father kept the promise.

The kid, however, didn’t take a beating right away. Trainers worked with the skinny 112-pounder, and a few weeks later, paired him with a more experienced boxer, John Jackson, who bloodied Thomas’ nose.

“Me not knowing boxing, I sized (Jackson) up and I said I can probably get him,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know it was a science.”

The clowning stopped, but his desire to fight — and succeed —didn’t. He didn’t throw many punches his first weeks of training, working on not getting hit. It became a difficult proposition for opponents, and holds true today.

Along the way, Thomas sparred with Vernon Perry and Thomas Hearns, who took a liking to him.

And, good things happened outside Kronk, too.

Five months after his introduction to the ring, Thomas won the Ringside Nationals. Then he won Silver Gloves state and national titles. In fact, he started his amateur career 20-0.

Then, after Thomas won the Junior Olympics, late manager Emanuel Steward took him under his wing and predicted great things.

“He taught me certain things about life,” Thomas said. “We watched tape on Sugar Ray Robinson, Thomas Hearns. He taught me that hard work pays off and how to carry myself around people.”

The question today is, can Thomas make his father’s prediction come true?

“I really don’t think there is a champion out there that can beat me,” Thomas said. “I just needed the right backing. I needed a person who could protect me there instead of going through the grind. Just get me there and I will handle the rest.”