3:16 PM EDT, August 2, 2011
This looked like the script of a heartwarming movie: a promising 15-year old boxer gets falsely accused of murder, spends 15 months in juvenile detention before a jury acquits him, comes back to win a national title and earn a shot at the 2012 Olympic team.
But, at least for now, there is no Hollywood ending for Chicago fighter Semajay Thomas.
And his coach, Nate Jones, blamed Thomas for letting his chance slip away without a real fight.
"I'm so disappointed," Jones said Tuesday afternoon. "He could have made the story even better."
A day after his controversial defeat in the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials inMobile, Ala., Thomas was disqualified after failing to make weight for what would have been his Tuesday evening bout in the losers bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
"We're going back to the drawing board," Thomas said late Tuesday morning. "I guess I'm going to turn professional now."
Thomas had said Monday that he didn't want to continue in the Olympic trials after feeling he was cheated in the 20-18 loss to Pedro Sosa in the 141-pound class.
"He just gave up after that," Jones said. "I begged him to get the weight off (Monday) night, but he didn't want to do it. He thought everything was rigged against him. I told him, `I can't make you fight, but you don't know what you are losing.'"
Jones said Thomas reacted to the frustration of the defeat by eating too much Monday, then decided early Tuesday morning he wanted to try to make weight. By then, Jones said, Thomas was 10 pounds overweight. He was still three pounds heavy at the 8 a.m weigh-in.
"You can't lose all that at the last minute,'' Jones said.
Under USA Boxing's Olympic selection process, Thomas still would have a chance to make the 2012 Olympic team if the 141-pound winner at the trials does not get a top-10 finish at September's World Championships. To do that, Thomas would have to win the U.S. title again in 2012 and do well at an international qualifier next spring.
"I'm an American, so I'm not going to hope that our boxer doesn't do it at the world meet,'' Jones said. "But Semajay should stay prepared. He shouldn't turn pro until the worlds end."
Jones was not sure he would keep working with Thomas.
"In my gut, I'm crushed," Jones said. "I've been five years with this kid. He is something special. But I'm too hurt by this right now to know (whether he would remain Thomas' coach)."
Thomas said he hopes to make his professional debut in December. He is to begin his senior year at Rauner College Prep this month.
"I'm going to go home and redeem myself,'' he said. "I'm going to come back like a true champion, the same way I did when I was incarcerated. Everything is going to go for the good. There are still great things ahead of me."
Thomas was not worried that he would be turning pro too soon, with precious little amateur experience because he was in detention from August, 2009 through November, 2010.
"I'm still one of the top amateur fighters in the country," he said. "I'm very marketable."
Jones was lavish in his praise of Thomas' ability in an interview last month. The coach went so far as to compare Thomas to world champion Floyd Mayweather, with whom Jones has trained.
"Mayweather is the best I have ever worked with, and this kid ain't too far behind," Jones said. "He (Thomas) is probably one of the hardest punchers in amateur boxing."
That wasn't enough in the Olympic trials, where the complicated scoring system frequently leaves neutral observers baffled by the results.
Had he made the Olympic team, Thomas' back story likely would have attracted enough attention to spur movie interest.
Now he must hope that a dream deferred is not a dream denied, that the story can morph into one like that of Micky Ward, the boxer whose comeback when failure followed initial success became the focus of the Academy Award-nominated film, "The Fighter."
"I'm going to get back in the gym and stay focused," Thomas said. "I'm going to show people I can bounce back."
After all, what is boxing but a literal lesson from the school of hard knocks?
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