Jack Thompson is starting over.
A man whose life has been defined by the fight game, Thompson has pursued with a boxer’s resilience his dream of creating a go-to gym for boxers and MMA fighters. He has been knocked around by the economy, the shifting interests of fighters, landlords, and cancer.
If you go
What: Amateur mixed martial arts fights.
When: Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m. First fight at 7 p.m.
Where: JRT Boxing and MMA, 5000 E. Fourth Plain.
Who: Fighters from Vancouver, Yakima, Eugene and Medford are scheduled to participate. The card was still being finalized on Thursday.
Ticket: General admission seating, $20 at the door.
But for the first time in nearly a decade, Thompson believes he has found his place.
JRT Boxing and MMA opened its doors in July in vacant retail space next to the Albertsons store at 5000 E. Fourth Plain. He said he signed a four-year lease for the space, which is large enough for an MMA cage, boxing ring, heavy bags — all the tools fighter need to train.
On Saturday, he will have an open house of sorts by hosting a mixed martial arts show featuring amateur fighters from around Oregon and Washington.
A trainer and promoter of boxers with more than five decades in the sport, Thompson formed Vancouver Boxing Club six years ago. Since then he has used five different locations to train boxers, and has survived cancer of the esophagus.
At 78, Thompson no longer takes the lead in training fighters. He is using his many years in boxing to build a coaching staff he said can both train top-flight fighters and help teach and inspire kids.
Ray Monge has 25 years of experience as a boxing coach, many as a volunteer at Matt Dishman Center and Knott Street gym in Portland. He has brought several promising young boxers from Portland with him to JRT Boxing.
“I’ve known Jack for a long time,” Monge said. “He was telling me what he wanted to do, talking about doing something grander.”
Otha Common, whose own boxing career started more than three decades ago in Anderson, Ind., is also coaching boxers.
Thompson said his head MMA coach will be Josh Bennett, a 35-year-old who has an 18-9 record in professional MMA fights, including a heavyweight championship and a Super Fight title for the Portland-based Full Contact Fighting Federation. Bennett said he has trained with Randy Couture, Matt Lindland and other successful fighters from the Portland area.
Thompson thought he had found his dream space in Hockinson last year. But the lack of sprinklers meant he couldn’t host boxing and MMA shows. So he kept looking and is thrilled to have landed at the Market Place Shopping Center.
There are several established businesses in Clark County that train fighters for MMA, including Fisticuffs, Inferno Sports and Fitness, and Gladiator MMA. Thompson said having multiple gyms in town is good for the sport.
“Guys go where they want to go (train),” he said.
Clemente Bosch, one of the locals scheduled to have his fifth amateur MMA fight on Saturday’s card, said he joined Thompson’s team as a fighter and assistant coach because he liked both the facility and the friendships at JRT Boxing and MMA.
“This is the best setup I’ve seen,” Bosch said. “Also there’s a great atmosphere and there’s no favorites, no special treatment for anyone.”
Common, 51, said boxing helped keep him out of trouble while growing up in Indiana. He said he had some success as an AAU boxer, and a short professional career. He said he is excited to have a place where he can give back by helping at-risk youth in Vancouver through boxing.
“I’ve used boxing every day of my life,” Common said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
Thompson said he hasn’t had to work hard to sell those coaches on his vision.
“Everyone comes in and looks at (the gym) and I don’t have to tell them very much,” he said with a smile.