The path of likeable New Jersey middleweight contender Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna has not been smooth.

On May 1, 2021, he fluffed his lines on the biggest stage he had fought on, wiped out in a round by Cuban star Erislandy Lara, and his future looked bleak.

In the months that followed, even LaManna thought he was done.

Three years on, ahead of a fight the 32-year-old LaManna reckons could be “make or break” against veteran Juan Carlos Abreu at Bally’s on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, he admitted darkness followed him after Lara, despite leaping back into the ring just three months later – winning in Mexico – urgently trying to put his disappointment behind him. 

It turned out, though, that LaManna needed time to grieve over the defeat and he was sidelined, slumped in the shadows believing he had reached the end as sadness started to manifest. 

“Nobody knew,” said LaManna (37-5-1, 16 KOs). “Two or three months later, I came back just to get that loss out of my head, so I went to Mexico and I got a win. But that actually made it worse. I blew up to like 238 pounds, I went into deep, deep depression. I thought it was all over for me. Because boxing’s all I have. Boxing literally is all I have as far as a working thing and earning money and all that. Once you’re a fighter, you’re always a fighter, and that’s why it’s always hard when people just don’t know to walk away. I thought it was all over for me. I just walked away and it was hard.

“I wasn’t in the gym. I started drinking heavily, fast food, smoking. I went into a dark place. I just wanted to be away from everybody, be away from everything. I would lie to myself sometimes here and there and say, ‘F*** it, I’ll go to the gym,’ and I’d spar and hit the bag, pretend I’m doing something and then go drink again. Shit like that.”

The Lara loss and the 80-second nature of it was a heartbreaker. When the popular LaManna had the greatest number of eyes on him, he did not even have time to pull the parking brake off.

“I do believe I’m a different fighter now,” LaManna added. “I think I’m much better. That was three years ago. With time comes experience. With time comes growth. And obviously I was caught cold. There’s no excuse. I’ve never made an excuse about the fight. I was caught cold. I was set up by one of the best fighters of my generation. I was set up by a great shot I should have seen coming, but I didn’t and I was caught cold. It was only like two minutes into the fight. Caught cold.”

Nowadays, LaManna uses the hashtag #darkplaces on his social media uploads as constant signposts to the months that followed and a reminder of why it is so important that he stays on track from here on. He does not even recognize what he became in the aftermath.

“Absolutely not,” he continues. “No matter what happens Saturday, no matter what happens moving forward, I will never go back to that. I don’t want that. I’m old enough and wise enough to know, we can’t dip into that. That was rough, not only for me, for my family, all the people around me that got brought into it.

“Around that time, Covid was still something and it was hard times for a lot of people, and it f***** the mental [side of things] up. That’s what it was. Thankfully, I broke out of it. Figured it out. Came back slowly. Won some fights and I climbed my way back in. I told my team that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right and we’re going to get to the top.”

LaManna was around fighters all day every day. He stated visiting the gyms, talking to friends in the sport and the irresistible magnet at the center – boxing – started to lure him back in.   

The fight with the veteran Abreu (26-7-1) is crucial. It has a minor title attached to it, but playing boxing politics could help LaManna get where he needs to go.  

“I feel really good. It’s been a long time coming, to get another crack at the title,” he said. “I’m very excited.”

Is it make or break?

“Sure. The short answer is yes. It was a hard climb back into this position after the Lara fight. It was hard physically, emotionally, mentally and all that s***, so yeah, it would be a make-or-break. That’s how I’m taking it. I’m giving it my all to get this win, get this title and go on to bigger and better.

“Confidence is there. I’ve been active [eight wins since Lara], which is good. I’m peaking at the right time.”

The man they call Cornflake, after a character on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, will have more than 200 supporters on hand at Bally’s.

He’s done most of his camp at Cherry Hill’s TKO Gym, but he’s also gone to Philadelphia to work with Bozy and Jaron “Boots” Ennis, the welterweight star who LaManna could not rate any more highly than he does.

“Oh man, he’s a freak of nature,” LaManna said, smiling. “Very good. High IQ, very smart. He works hard, too. He don’t cut no corners. That don’t exist. He doesn’t cut corners, which is impressive, and he’s been like that since he was a kid. He’s very good, and in the very near future he will be in deep consideration for pound-for-pound No. 1.”

Coach Reg Lloyd, fresh from Saudi Arabia, where he worked with Camden’s Raymond Ford against Nick Ball, will be in LaManna’s corner in Bally’s.

“Saturday’s for a second-tier world title, it’s for the [WBA] gold, which is more like an interim. Verbally, it doesn’t really mean s*** in boxing, but I become Lara’s mandatory, so we can consolidate, depending on what he does. Or perhaps something. … As of now, my goal is just to win this belt, tick one box off, become world champ, and we’ll see what’s next.”

LaManna has been linked to Chris Eubank Jr., Danny Garcia, Jarret Hurd. Lucrative fights that could go a way to securing his future – but this weekend is the priority.

“I’m not going to look past Juan Carlos Abreu,” LaManna explained. “He’s a tough fighter. He’s only lost to the best. He’s only been stopped once, by Boots ironically. He just lost a majority decision to Charles Conwell in a WBC final eliminator, so he’s a top-quality guy. We’ve just got to get through him.”

Read the full article here