Isiah Thomas is determined to live up to the expectations put on him by legendary trainer Emanuel Steward.
Steward, who trained Isiah Thomas at his Kronk Gym in Detroit before his death in 2012, saw something special early on in the fighter, who faces in-state rival Jordan Shimmell in a 200-pound bout Saturday in Las Vegas in a fight airing live on NBC Sports Network (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“Emanuel always assured me years ago that he thought I was going to be a world champion. He said I was a special talent and would praise me on my natural ability,” Thomas said.
“Emanuel was a great teacher who took me under his wing and constantly had me watching tape to learn. I want to fulfill Emanuel’s dreams of what he believed I could accomplish. I’m putting the city on my back to bring boxing back to Detroit the way that it used to be.”
The 6-foot-4 Thomas (14-0, 6 KOs) is named after his mother’s favorite basketball player, Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas, who guided the Detroit Pistons to the first of back-to-back NBA championships in 1989, the year he was born.
Now the 26-year-old southpaw wants to make the name synonymous with boxing, and will try to take another step toward that goal against Shimmell (19-0, 16 KOs), who is from Hudsonville, Michigan.
“I’ve never fought in Vegas. It's an important fight on a stage I've never been on. But I'll fight anywhere,” Thomas said. “We could fight in Antarctica or in the middle of the ocean. I’m a real fighter. Nothing bothers me.”
Thomas vows not to befall a similar fate to that of training partner and fellow Steward protégé Tony Harrison, who suffered his first loss by ninth-round knockout to Willie Nelson in a 160-pound bout earlier this month.
“Tony and I had our camp in the same gym in Detroit called Hands On Boxing. We would do swimming, running and strength and conditioning drills together,” Thomas said. “To come up short like that, you feel bad for your fellow Detroit teammate because I know how hard he worked and how much he wanted it. I can learn from his experience.”
Thomas, who won the Cadet World Championships in 2005, said he defeated Shimmell back when they were amateurs. Now he’s looking to do it on the professional level.
“We were like 17 or 18 fighting in a tournament in Michigan to advance to the regionals,” Thomas said. “It wasn't a memorable fight, but it’s in the back of my head. Jordan has earned his publicity, but I like being the underdog.
“I can hear Emanuel's voice right now, telling me I'm going to be a world champion. This is the first test where I can fulfill his premonitions, and it's only the beginning."
For complete coverage of Shimmell vs Thomas, visit our fight page.