Thomas LaManna was listening last weekend when Danny Garcia broke down in tears as he spoke about his mental health challenges. That vulnerable moment was one that LaManna, and untold numbers of other boxers, can relate to.
LaManna had gone to “dark places” to prepare for fights, but found himself in a different kind of dark place following his first round knockout loss to Erislandy Lara in May of 2021. It had taken him ten years of professional fighting to get to this stage, and in 80 seconds found himself having to rebuild from step one. He fought once more, in August of 2021, stopping Felix Bojorquez in two rounds, but found that fighting in a bar in Sonora, Mexico was a long way from the bright lights of a Fox pay-per-view undercard.
In the months after, the middleweight boxer ballooned to 240 pounds, and the stress began impacting his family life.
In one night, LaManna had made his first six-figure payday, and was simultaneously faced with a dead end in the only profession he’d ever known.
“I got hard on myself, I was very disappointed. I fell into a depression and said fuck everything,” recalls the 30-year-old “Cornflake” LaManna (31-5-1, 13 knockouts) of Millville, N.J.
“I just took a step back and asked, ‘Do I really need this? Will I ever get there again?’ I started having self doubt.”
Knocked down in life, LaManna rose to his feet. He got married to his long-time girlfriend in June, and now is set to return to the ring on August 20 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. LaManna will face an opponent to be named on a card that he’ll promote under the Rising Star Promotions banner. The bout will be a ten-rounder at a catchweight of 170 pounds, with the plan of fighting several more times before the year ends and working back to the middleweight limit.
“I said I’ve gotta give this one last shot because I’m not a quitter, I’m not gonna just stop because I got knocked out. I’m gonna give it another run. It’s gonna be my last run, it’s gonna be my best run,” said LaManna,
LaManna’s relationship with boxing runs deep. Though his father Vinny LaManna had been involved in the local scene as the manager for heavyweight contender Ray Mercer, it was Thomas who insisted on pursuing the sport as a 9-year-old. He had about 40 amateur bouts, including a match against future world titleholder Jessie Vargas, before turning professional in 2011.
In addition to being the leading ticket-selling boxer of the Atlantic City area, LaManna has also been one of the most active club show promoters in New Jersey, founding Rising Star Promotions with the help of his mother Debra, who was the promoter of record before he could afford the bond for a promoter’s license. The company re-emerged this year with Thomas LaManna as the promoter of record, hosting shows in Newark and Atlantic City. He also began a club show series in Washington D.C. called Beltway Battles, teaming with his former opponent Dusty Hernandez-Harrison.
Unlike in past years, LaManna now has a whole team to help him put together boxing events.
“When I first started, I literally did everything…matchmaking, medicals, licensing, travel, coordinating. One time I fought, I put the ring together three days before the event. I went and picked up my opponent from the airport because I didn’t have anyone helping,” said LaManna.
“Mentally it does get stressful because I am so hands on but I guess it comes down to having faith in the people you got helping you,” said LaManna.
The rest of the card is comprised of local attractions, including bantamweight contender Emmanuel “Salserito” Roriguez (11-0, 6 KOs) of Newark, N.J. in his first ten-round bout against Frank Gonzalez (9-2, 4 KOs). Other prospects in action include Jose Nieves (3-0, 2 KOs) of Woodbridge, N.J., Kurt Scoby (7-0, 5 KOs) of New York and Anthony Johns (3-0, 3 KOs) of Newark.
As important to the local scene as LaManna has been, he still has bigger plans for himself.
“The whole plan is global, not local. I touched the world stage that night, it was dope. I was more than ready to become champ that night [against Lara] and I’m gonna get there again. And this time it’ll be a different outcome,” said LaManna.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]