16
Oct
09

‘Punching Postman’ Tony Thornton dead at 49, after ‘cycle crash

A picture of the Blessed Mother is about the only celebrity you’ll find on the walls of Topo Gigio Pizza in Bellmawr.

But for many years, a picture of a smiling, muscular mail carrier also graced that sacred wall space near the Virgin Mary in the blue-collar, Camden County town.

Middleweight Tony Thornton

Middleweight Tony Thornton

Tony Thornton didn’t just deliver the mail, though. Nicknamed “The Punching Postman,” the former U.S. Boxing Association middleweight and super-middleweight champion fought for a world title three times and finished his career with 37 wins (26 knockouts), 7 losses, and 1 draw.

“He was a good friend and a good boxer,” said Topo Gigio owner John Musso. “I’ll miss him.”

Thornton, 49, of Glassboro, died Thursday of complications from injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 30 while traveling on Interstate 676 in Gloucester City.

New Jersey State Police say Thornton was thrown off his bike when it hit a New Jersey Transit bus that had merged into his lane about 6:45 p.m.

Thornton was wearing a helmet, said his cousin Robert Rose, who was riding with him at the time.

“I just think the impact of the crash and the road rash just took its toll on him,” said Rose. “There were internal injuries.”

Thornton had contracted pneumonia while in Cooper University Hospital and was on a breathing machine when he died there Thursday, Rose said.

When police finally located the NJ Transit bus in Atlantic City, the 66-year-old female driver was cited for failure to maintain a lane.

“She was not aware that the bus had been hit,” said Det. Brian Polite of the New Jersey State Police.

The accident remains under investigation, Polite said.

A football and track star at Glassboro High School, Thornton walked onto the boxing team at West Chester University, turned pro in 1983 and won his first 18 bouts.

In 1984, he became a “Punching Postman” when he went to work for the United States Postal Service in Bellmawr as a letter carrier. He had been a supervisor with the Post Office since 1997.

“He was a great ambassador for our organization and he was a good friend,” said Ray Daiutolo, a USPS spokesman. “We used to say all that walking kept him in good shape.”

People in Bellmawr got used to seeing their beloved postman disappear for weeks at a time during the late 1980s and early ’90s, when Thornton was at the peak of his career.

“Anybody that’s lived in Bellmawr for the last 25 years knew Tony,” said co-worker Mike DiDomenico. “He was a hard-working, stand-up guy and they respected that.”

In 1989, Thornton won the USBA middleweight title in Atlantic City, then took the USBA super-middleweight crown in 1995 at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia.

The first of three world-title shots came in 1992, when he lost a close decision to Chris Eubank in Scotland for the World Boxing Organization’s super-middleweight title. He lost another decision to James Toney the following year in an International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title bout.

Thornton’s last fight was his biggest payday: a third-round TKO to Roy Jones Jr. for the IBF super-middleweight title.

“All three of those losses came to potential hall-of-famers,” said J. Russell Peltz, Thornton’s promoter. “He was a blue-collar fighter. He had a great chin and a good right.”

Thornton leaves behind his ex-wife, Carole, a son, Tony Jr., and daughter, Ashley, along with a girlfriend, Kim, but he also leaves behind thousands of fans who loved to see him pounding the pavement after pounding opponents.

“The people he delivered to loved him and he loved them,” Carole Thornton said. “They were his true fans.”

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