Thomas LaManna has been a professional boxer for a decade.

He made his debut on Feb. 2, 2011 with a second-round TKO at Bally's Atlantic City. Two days later, he was back in a classroom as a senior at Millville High School.

"I've been at this for a long time," LaManna said during a phone interview Thursday. "Like every fighter, I've always dreamed of becoming a world champion."

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He'll get that opportunity tonight (Saturday), when he faces current WBA super-welterweight champion Erislandy Lara for the vacant WBA middleweight title at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The fight will be televised on FOX, starting at 7 p.m.

LaManna (30-4-1, 12 KOs) will be attempting to become the third boxer from Atlantic, Cape May or Cumberland County to win a world championship, joining Atlantic City's Bruce Seldon and the late Leavander Johnson.

Seldon won the WBA heavyweight crown with a seventh-round TKO over Tony Tucker on April 8, 1995. He retained the title with a 10th-round TKO over Joe Hipp four months later before suffering a first-round TKO loss to Mike Tyson on Sept. 7, 1996.

Johnson became IBF lightweight champion on June 17, 2005 with a seventh-round TKO over Stefano Zoff.

Exactly three months later, he lost via 11th-round TKO to Jesus Chavez. Johnson collapsed in his dressing room after the bout and died from head injuries five days later, on Sept. 22, 2005.

Two other local boxers came up short in title bids. Bridgeton light-heavyweight Richie Kates dropped a pair of controversial bouts against the late Victor Galindez in 1976 and 1977, respectively. Atlantic City's John Brown lost title challenges against Shane Mosley (IBF lightweight) and the late Diego Corrales (IBF super-featherweight) in 1999, then lost a pair of challenges against IBF super-featherweight champ Steve Forbes in 2000 and 2001.

Seldon, Johnson, Kates and Brown are all members of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame.
LaManna, 29, is considered an underdog against Lara (27-3-3, 15 KOs), a 38-year-old Cuba native who now lives and trains in Houston. Various betting sites have listed Lara as a 25/1 favorite.

"I'm excited for this fight," Lara said during a press conference Friday. "I'm looking to knock (LaManna) out in four rounds or sooner. We'll see if he has what it takes."

LaManna is ranked eighth by the WBA but is 2-2 in his last four fights. He suffered back-to-back defeats last year against Jorge Cota (fifth-round TKO) and Brian Mendoza (10-round, unanimous decision) before rebounding with a pair of wins in Mexico against journeymen Jorge Pimental (first-round KO) and Juan de Jesus Angulo Gonzalez (fifth-round TKO).

He's also fought through his share of adversity out of the ring in the last year.
LaManna tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this year and was stricken with headaches and chills for a few days before recovering. He's also endured some financial hardships while trying to build Rising Star Promotions, the boxing promotional company he leads with his mother, Debbie.

"I'm not homeless, but my fiance and daughter and I have been forced to live in different places," LaManna said. "We spent some nights in hotels in Atlantic City and we lived with my mom in Millville while I trained for this fight. But all that is about to change. When I get back to South Jersey on Monday, we're moving into a new place in Berlin (Camden County). I'm going to take some time off from boxing and focus on life."

He's also hoping to have a championship belt around his waist when he returns.

LaManna is not expected to win, but he's beaten the odds before.

"This is my one chance and I'm going to whatever it takes to make the most of it," he said. "I have to be great for 36 minutes. If I can do that, I'll be world champion."

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