Knockout In Pink
Local boxer Cam Thompson is not what you'd expect.
Ranked the number one amateur super heavyweight boxer in the nation, Lenroy "Cam" Thompson is arguably the metro's best-kept athletic secret. Just 21 years old, Thompson holds more champion titles than most boxers dream about: Golden Gloves National Champion, Everlast National Champion, PAL National Champion, Ringside World Champion.
If things go as expected, he'll be in London in 2012 to collect another title: Olympic Super Heavyweight Champion.
But 'expected' isn't a word applied easily to Thompson's career or to him. What he says and does may surprise you. The champion stands at 6 feet 3 inches tall and a ripped 225 pounds, but describes his younger self as "un-athletic." He compares boxing to chess or fencing more than any other sport, and he describes his own fights as "boring to watch."
And there's one more thing: he fights every bout wearing pink trunks and matching pink headgear.
The pink attire began as a way to draw attention to women's breast cancer, a cause near and dear to Thompson's heart.
The boxer has raised more than $3000 in the fight against the disease by selling "My Team Cam" t-shirts--also pink--at his bouts. He talks to breast cancer supporters and survivors all over the country who are inspired to see a manly prizefighter stepping out in pink for their feminine cause.
Naturally you would assume there's a story behind his affiliation with breast cancer--perhaps a mother, a sister or a girlfriend affected by the disease.
"No," says Thompson, who refuses to comment on rumors that he did suffer the loss of someone close to him during his teen years. "I chose breast cancer because it's something you can put a target on," he explains. "There are a lot of problems out there, and this is one we can fix."
Thompson seems nearly as determined to beat cancer as he is to beat his opponents. Winning all but two out of 31 bouts in 2009, the national champion will defend his Golden Gloves title this spring before traveling to the U.S. Men's National Competition in July.
"I think I'm addicted to winning," he smiles, with a mischievous yet friendly twinkle in his eye. "The way I see it, there's three guys in the ring--the referee, the winner and the loser. Every time I get in there, I just don't see any reason why the other guy shouldn't be the loser."
That kind of theoretical perspective on the sport remains--besides the pink trunks--one of Thompson's trademarks. He seems particularly focused on using his champion status to change the way people think about boxing.
Thompson is what you could call a "thinking man's" boxer and rejects several long-held notions about the sport: that boxers are dumb and that the sport itself is violent at best, dangerous at worst.
"Most people know three boxers--Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali and [the character] Rocky," says Thompson, who sports dreadlocks and a slightly professorial pair of glasses outside the ring. "So they think that all of us are either violent or mentally limited. And since boxing is used nationwide as a prevention program for at-risk kids, they think boxers are bad people. It's just not the case."
Indeed Thompson's background, boxing style and personality flies in the face of such stereotypes.
Raised on Long Island primarily by his mother, his grandmother, an aunt and two sisters, Thompson says he spent more time playing "double-dutch" than playing any conventional sport. Only after he joined a gym at 16 just to "get in shape" did he discover a penchant for boxing.
After boxing in Florida he moved to Kansas to train under the tutelage of two coaches, John Brown and Austin Ford. "People don't realize that Kansas City has one of the best boxing programs in the country," he says.
While the boxer is dead-set on training to win, his moves in the ring support his notion that boxing isn't just a blood sport.
"Boxing is an art--it's even fought on a canvas," says Thompson, who seems energized by the perfectness of that metaphor. "Amateur boxing isn't about how hard you hit. It's usually won on points and not knockouts. You get one point for each hit, so it's really more like fencing."
Watching Thompson box is a reminder that the best offense is often a good defense.
"Sometimes if I score three points early on I'll run from [my opponent] for the rest of the fight. Then it turns into a chess match," he laughs. "And chess just isn't that exciting to watch."
The boxer hopes comparisons to fencing and chess will lessen the perception of the sport's brutality and encourage mothers to allow their kids to box.
"Boxing isn't even in the top 50 most dangerous sports," he points out. "It's safer than cheerleading."
Thompson thinks boxing has the potential to make kids more confident, a trait he's never really lacked. When asked which boxers he's compared to most often, he mentions Holmes and Ali before quickly following up: "I'd rather people be compared to me."
That makes sense coming from an athlete who prides himself on non-conformity and encourages kids to do the same. He insists that playing to the crowd results in a mediocrity that cheats the world of something great.
"If every kid could be encouraged to be the best they can be, we wouldn't have some of the problems we have in the world," he says. "Success is about focus. We've got to get these kids away from drinking and drugs and to focus on being the best."
And while Thompson talks the talk, he also walks the walk by exhibiting his own laser-like focus anytime he's in the ring. When asked what he thinks of during a bout, he smiles at the sound of his own words, "I can't wait until they say I win."
While some might call that cockiness, there's an honest goodness to Thompson that makes the suggestion of any undesirable motives seem inappropriate.
He scoffs at the notion that detractors accuse him of using the cause of breast cancer to garner more attention in the ring, and insists that opponents have never taunted him over the pink trunks. "C'mon," he chides, "who has enough [nerve] to make fun of someone who's bringing awareness to something like breast cancer?"
To find out more, donate to breast cancer research or sign up for a personal training session, e-mail Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
words: Cisley Thummel
photos: Gary Rohman