4) Pinklon Thomas, 22, of Pontiac, Mich. Weight: 210. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 12-0. Last Dec. 14 at 4:30 a.m., Thomas was leaving an Atlantic City casino with $300 he had won at the roulette table when someone stopped and asked him if he wanted to fight that night. Thomas, who trains in Philadelphia, had come to Atlantic City to watch the fights, not participate in them. One of the heavyweights on the card pulled out, and the promoters needed a man to fill the card. Thomas accepted, and at 5 a.m. he slipped off to bed. Cooney and Page also fought on that card, but Pinklon (Think Pink) Thomas stole the show. He dispatched Bobby Jordan in five behind a popping sweet jab.
Thomas is the question mark among the heavyweight prospects, but he has won against long odds before. At age 11, running with an older crowd in Pontiac, Thomas started doing drugs. "I began snorting dope and never thought I'd catch a habit, you know?" he says. "A year and a half later I found myself sticking myself with that spike. I was a dope fiend. I started doing crazy things to support it."
Thomas was on drugs, except for brief periods of rehabilitation, until New Year's Eve of 1977, when he made a resolution to get off them for good. He had always been an excellent athlete. In the seventh grade he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.9, according to a former junior high school coach, Bob Kaiser, and he was an ambidextrous pitcher in baseball. Once, in grade school, he won both ends of a doubleheader—the first throwing lefthanded, the second throwing right. By the time he was 19, he was concentrating on boxing.
Thomas turned pro in August 1978 after winning two of three amateur bouts and has since knocked out Leroy Caldwell, a journeyman, and stopped Jerry Williams, the former all-Army champ who just turned pro. Green as a roulette table, he has a bunch to learn. His jab goes bang, but he hardly uses his right, and when he does, it's as a righthand lead, not off the jab. He jumps around too much in the ring. Still, he's fast, strong and talented and can only get better.
5) Willie (the Cannon) Shannon, 27, of Portland, Ore. Weight: 190. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 15-0. Shannon served nine years for robbery in a Florida penitentiary before settling in Portland to fight for Mike (Motor-Mouth) Morton, a builder and fight manager there. He is light for the division nowadays, but experts rave about his grit and boxing skills. He beat Caldwell in Las Vegas last October even though he broke his right hand early in the fight and had to get off the deck in the eighth. When the fight was over, Sylvester Stallone, who happened to be in the crowd, climbed into the ring, embraced Shannon and said, "You're the real Rocky." Shannon is a combination puncher-boxer. The only knock against him is the apparent brittleness of his right hand. He has now broken it in two fights.
6) George Chaplin, 29, of Baltimore. Weight: 212. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 17-1-1. Chaplin wants more than anything to be known as the best boxer among the heavyweights. To that end he works diligently in Mack Lewis' gym on Eager Street in Baltimore. He came to boxing late, following a four-year tour in the Air Force and college at Morgan State, where he earned a physical education degree. He describes himself as a boxer who moonlights as an orthopedic technician at Lutheran Hospital in Baltimore. He has stopped Duane Bobick and is beginning to look higher.
7) Marty Monroe, 26, of Los Angeles. Weight: 218. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 20-0-1. Monroe is a fine boxer with an excellent jab, crisp and accurate, and a fair right hand. The rap against him is his tendency to train at half speed.
8) Perscell (Magic) Davis, 21, of Los Angeles. Weight: 220. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 10-0. Davis will be the first fighter to be managed by Ali; in fact, Ali gave Davis his nickname. Drew (Bundini) Brown, Ali's witch doctor of many years, is handling Davis. Magic still has a long way to go, but he's coming. "Another young fighter with a lot of confidence," says Ken Norton, Ali's old rival. "He has a lot of speed, a lot of agility, and he's a fairly good puncher. He's still maturing and very hungry."
9) James (Quick) Tillis, 22, of Chicago. Weight: 195. Height: 6'2�". Pro record: 13-0. Tillis grew up in Tulsa, but last year he struck out for Chicago to put his future in the hands of Ernie Terrell, the former WBA heavyweight champ. "He read about my promoting in a magazine," Terrell says. "He arrived with $30 in his pocket, so I put him up at a YMCA." Tillis has since been learning his trade and improving. He is neither big nor a big puncher, but he's as fast as a dart and throws his punches unerringly.
10) Jeff Podgurski, 25, of Las Vegas. Weight: 200. Height: 6'2". Pro record: 7-0-1. A long-shot special, Podgurski is a former kick-boxer who holds a black belt in karate and is a student of ballet. That unlikely background perhaps explains why he's extraordinarily mobile.