ATLANTIC CITY – Millville Middleweight Thomas LaManna took another big step in his redemption tour Saturday night.

He earned his eighth straight victory, dropping Juan Carlos Abreu of the Dominican Republic three times en route to a third-round knockout at Bally’s Atlantic City.

LaManna (38-5-1, 17 KOs) sent Abreu to the canvas with a punishing body attack, prompting referee Sparkle Lee to stop the bout at 2 minutes, 15 seconds of the third. A near-capacity crowd cheered while LaManna dropped to his knees and pounded his gloves on the canvas in celebration.

“He came in overweight and had to drop some pounds, so I knew he wasn’t in the best of shape,” LaManna said. “I knew he wouldn’t last six (rounds) and I figured the body shots were going to get him.”

The scheduled 12-round fight was for the vacant WBA gold title. It’s considered a level or two below the organization’s top rung – Erislandy Lara is the WBA’s world middleweight champion – but still holds some significance.

After the bout, LaManna strapped the belt around his waist and tearfully hugged family and friends on his way to the dressing room. Once there, he slung the belt over his shoulder and ducked into a hallway for a moment of private reflection.

“This means everything to me,” LaManna said. “I consider myself a world champion. I know it’s a second-tier title or whatever, but I’m still a world champion.”

LaManna said he planned on petitioning the WBA to become the mandatory challenger to middleweight champion Erislandy Lara in hopes of atoning for what he readily admits was an embarrassing loss.

Lara (33-3-3, 18 KOs) knocked out LaManna in 80 seconds on May 1, 2021 in Carson, California.

“I failed miserably in that fight,” LaManna said.

Disappointed and distraught, he struggled physically and emotionally. His weight ballooned to well over 200 pounds and when he returned to the gym, he trained half-heartedly, if at all.

He picked up a quick win in Mexico three months after the Lara fight, then spent a year away from the ring to get his mind and body back in shape before resuming his career in earnest.

“I was in a dark place,” LaManna said. “But I also knew that one day I’d be back on the big stage. And that if I ever did, I was going to make it count.”

LaManna, who is ranked No. 3 in the WBA world ratings, was originally scheduled to face Johan Gonzalez (34-3, 33 KOs), but Gonzalez opted to take another fight last month (which he lost via ninth-round TKO). Abreu was named as a replacement in early April.

It seemed only fitting that LaManna’s next big fight would be in the same ring as his first pro bout.

He made his pro debut at Bally’s on February 11, 2011 with a first-round TKO over Anthony Williams (0-2), of Wilson, North Carolina. Four months later, LaManna graduated from Millville High School.

During his 12-year career, he’s encountered more than a few obstacles. There have been times when he’s co-promoted his own fights with his mother, Debbie,  as part of Rising Star Promotions, often without compensation.

There was even a time seven years ago when, frustrated over the lack of progress and fed up with the politics of the sport, he announced his retirement from boxing, but was talked out of it by his mother and New Jersey State Athletic Control Board Commissioner Larry Hazzard.

"I told him that I thought his decision was a little premature," Hazzard said in an earlier interview. "I thought he had a lot of potential that hadn't been tapped into, yet. I also told him that he wasn't being fair to his fans. He has a pretty big following and I didn't want them to start calling him 'Cornfake' instead of 'Cornflake' (LaManna's boxing nickname).

Those fans nearly filled Bally’s Saturday night.

Now 32, he fought Abreu with his wife, Christine, and daughter, Brooklyn, watching at ringside. It was his 23rd fight in Atlantic City and eighth at Bally’s.

“I tried to treat this as just another fight, but the significance of it was on another level,” LaManna said. “We found a way to produce another opportunity and I made the most of it. It’s surreal.”

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