TNT Is Still Fighting

By Tom Donaldson
Updated: January 22, 2005

Tony “TNT” Tubbs
Tony “TNT” Tubbs

NEW YORK, NY—Young 17 year old James Helger was pumping jabs after jabs into the hand mitts of his trainer. After two rounds of nothing more than pumping jabs, Helger added a straight right to his jab as the trainer kept encouraging his young student. Each round, the trainer kept adding new twists to his young protégé. Each round, his young protégé looked more comfortable and more fluid in movements across the ring. As the evening wore on, James Helger started to look more like a boxer. The jab that began pumping slowly and softly one at a time was now pumping angrily into Tubbs hand mitt. A boxer began to emerge.

Helger amateur debut was just three days away. The trainer was one of the great masters of the jab in the 80’s- none other than Tony “TNT” Tubbs. In the mid 80’s, Tubbs was one of the slick boxers of his era and for one brief moment, he out boxed fellow slick boxer, Greg Page, to claim the WBA Heavyweight title.

At the age of 46, Tubbs still hopes for one more run at a title, if not at least a top ten rating. Now Tubbs helps young amateurs in a small gym in Cedar Rapids, Iowa while training for his own matches. In December, he out boxed the undefeated Brian Minto. Previously, Minto fought Vincent Maddalone in one of 2004 fights of the year and the Minto camp was looking for a high profile name for Minto’s resume. Tubbs did not play the role of mere opponent and gave the young Minto a boxing lesson.

In the early rounds against Minto, he rediscovered his youth as he out boxed his younger rival. Minto attempted to knock Tubbs out with every punch and as Tubbs told me, “Minto felt that I would tire out like I did against Okine, the year before.” Okine was another undefeated fighter and Tubbs dominated Okine in the early rounds before tiring due to an adequate lack of preparation. Okine stopped Tubbs in the eighth round. In this fight, Tubbs came in better prepared and as he recalled, “I was winning the first seven round easily but by the eight round, I was tired. I found a way to win by jabbing and then clinching.” With a smile, Tubbs quipped, “I must have really beaten him to come away with a split decision in his back yard.”

Tubbs next fight is scheduled for March 5th and in the meantime, he trains in Cedar Rapids while helping Michael Beyah, the amateur coach of the 3rd Street Gym. Right now my plan is to eat, sleep and dream boxing and see how far it takes me,” Tubbs told a recent interviewer, “They’ve got so many titles that I can be heavyweight champion again. Not only be a champion, but I want to make enough money that Clint and I can start our own boxing club.”

Tubbs manager’s Clint Calkins and Tubbs first met after a series of correspondences in the late 1980s. Calkins told me, “What I liked about Tubbs was his slick boxing style. “ Calkins goal is to guide Tubbs to one more shot at the title.

Tubbs has seen both the highs and lows of boxing. He has been a champion and he has fallen victim to inner demons and drugs. Now, he is beginning his life over again and looking for a second chance that only boxing can give him.

Why fight at the age of 46? Calkins told a recent interviewer “He has always been a good defensive fighter so he never really has gotten beat up as a lot of other fighters have and he’s been out of the game for five years on and off.” Calkins is concerned about Tubbs age but both are planning for the day after Tubbs career in the ring ends. “Tubbs can be the next Buddy McGirt,” Calkins told me, “He knows boxing and he was helpful in the development of the Klitschko’s brother.” Tubbs have worked and sparred with the Klitschko’s brothers since 1991 and has seen the two brothers move up the rank.

As for Tubbs, boxing is what he knows. He boxes because he loves it. As I first came to the gym, he was talking with Beyah about the old days in Cincinnati. They reminisced about the great junior welterweight Aaron Pryor and the amateur fighters that Tubbs met and fought on the way to the professional rank. It was a quick history lesson of the past 30 years. Boxing is what defines Tubbs as much as baseball defines Barry Bonds or football defines Peyton Manning. Since he was a young boy, he was a boxer and now, near the end of his career- the dreams never quite die. Tubbs may not win that elusive title but he will try one more time. Yet, if Tubbs fail to reach the pinnacle, there is the goal of maybe creating a new champion from the corner. Calkins and Tubbs dreams of owning and running a boxing club is beginning to take hold. For both Calkins and Tubbs, the dream of boxing will not end when Tubbs decides that to call it quit in the ring. It is prelude to a new life outside the ring.