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World Boxing Federation Champions Of The Past: Jimmy Thunder

Posted on September 8 2014                                              Bookmark and Share
By: Clive Baum



Since the World Boxing Federation was originally founded by American Larry Carrier in 1988, many of the sport’s biggest names have won a WBF title, and proudly defended the blue, red and gold belt all over the world.

In the previous eight segments of the series we profiled former WBF Champions Johnny Nelson, Greg Haugen, Samson Dutch Boy Gym, Angel Manfredy, Carl Daniels, Ricky Parkey, Jeff Malcolm and Juan Lazcano.

As we move ahead with the ninth part of the WBF Champions of The Past series, its time to look at the career of former Heavyweight World Champion Jimmy Thunder, a hard-punching Samoan who thrilled live audiences, mainly in Australia, New Zealand and America, and television viewers all over the world.


James Peau, as is his given name, was born on February 3 1966 in Apia, Samoa. The third oldest of six siblings, he moved with his family to Auckland, New Zealand as a child, and it was during his high school years that he was bitten by the boxing bug.

A friend introduced James to trainer, and former boxer, Gerry Preston, who took on the task of teaching the young Samoan the sport. And Preston did very well, as Peau went on to win gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, the first ever Samoan-born heavyweight to do so.

Representing New Zealand, Peau had hopes of qualifying for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, but when he didn’t make the team he decided to turn professional in Australia, making his debut with a fourth round stoppage victory over Fiji´s Niko Degai in April 1989.

Peau continued to box out of Australia, and soon took on the fighting-name Jimmy (or James) Thunder. He won his first nine paid bouts, all by knockout, against good opposition that included Bernardo Mercado (33-4), Mauricio Villegas (19-4) and former WBC Light Heavyweight world champion J.B. Williamson (26-5).

He was off to a flying start and had captured OPBF and WBC International titles in the process, but in his tenth outing Thunder was brought back down to earth as tricky American Mike Hunter (15-2-2) stopped him in the fourth round at the Festival Hall in Melbourne.

While the Hunter-defeat was not expected, it was a loss against a very good opponent, and Thunder made a quick return to the Festival Hall three months later and got back in the win-column with a first-round blow-out of journeyman Rocky Salanoa.

Still considered an exiting and promising prospect, Thunder was given a good chance to pick up the Commonwealth title when he traveled to England in May 1991 to face reigning champion Derek Williams (16-4) at the legendary York Hall in London.

But Williams proved to be too much for Thunder at the time, and after two knockdowns in the second round the referee decided to spare the challenger from further punishment. It was another setback, but Thunder was determined to continue working his way to the top, and doing it the hard way.

In August 1991 he went abroad again, going to Fiji to defend his OPBF title against local man Aisea Nama (32-15-2). Nama was nowhere near the level of Derek Williams, and Thunder scored an impressive knockout in round seven, much to the disappointment of the enthusiastic fans at ringside.

Back in Australia, a major domestic fight for the vacant Australian title was lined up against Craig Petersen (16-3-1), a bout that drew a lot of attention and was highly anticipated as an evenly matched clash between local heavyweight hopes.

On November 14 1991 Thunder and Petersen squared off in front of a packed Festival Hall in Melbourne, and it looked like an easy nights work for Thunder when he knocked Petersen down already in the first round. However, Petersen survived the onslaught and quickly found his rhythm in round two.

While Petersen possessed the better boxing skills, and appeared to win most of the rounds, Thunder remained dangerous and several times looked on the verge of getting back on top in the intense fight. In round eight he caught Petersen again with a massive shot, prompting the referee to issue a standing eight count.

But again Petersen got through the round, and managed to land more punches than his opponent in the remaining stanzas. After twelve heated rounds, all three judges had Petersen ahead on their scorecards, but a rematch seemed inevitable.

Eager to rebound quickly before a return bout with Petersen, Thunder accepted to go back to New Zealand for a fight against Tonga-born Young Haumona (23-8) only three weeks later. While it was not exactly a world-class encounter, Thunder won a unanimous decision and the IBF Pan Pacific title.

It would be another six months before the rematch with Petersen, who had interestingly also defeated Young Haumona by decision in the meantime, materialized. This time they fought in Thunder´s country, New Zealand, but still with the Australian title on the line.

Hungry for revenge, Thunder made sure to leave no stone unturned and trained like a man possessed in preparation for the fight. And it paid off for him, as he out-worked Petersen over twelve rounds to win by unanimous decision, with a good crowd at the ASB Stadium in Auckland-suburb Kohimarama celebrating his success.

With a new championship in his collection, Thunder didn’t take any time off and returned to his place of birth, Apia, Samoa, for a showcase bout only sixteen days later against former victim Aisea Nama (now 33-17-2). This time he beat Nama even more convincingly, with a second round knockout.

The Petersen fights, the two knockouts of Nama and the Haumana victory earned Thunder a second crack at the now vacant Commonwealth title, against lanky and extremely awkward European Champion Henry Akinwande (18-0-1), and again he would have to travel for it.

In March of 1993 Thunder lost a scrappy fight on points to the Nigerian-born Englishman in London, but history would prove that there was no shame in this result, as Akinwande went on to win the WBO World title three years later, and made two successful defenses before losing to all-time-great Lennox Lewis for the WBC crown.

Despite the loss to Akinwande, there was still a lot of belief in Thunder and his potential. Three months removed from the disappointing trip to England, he returned to the ring with a second-round demolition of trial-horse David Ravu Ravu (7-5-2), a warm-up to another great opportunity lined up for July of 1993.

Headlining a show at the Sheraton Breakwater Casino in Townsville, Australia, Thunder was matched with Jamaican-American contender Melton Bowen (28-4) for the vacant WBF World Heavyweight title, the biggest fight of his life, and he had every intention of making the most of it.

Miami-based Bowen, the reigning WBF Intercontinental Champion, arrived in Australia confident of victory, and made it clear in the build-up that he too was hell-bend on bringing the WBF World title home. With three quick knockouts in a row since a decision loss to former WBA World Champion Tony Tubbs, Bowen felt sure of himself.

On fight-night Thunder entered the ring with Samoan dancers leading the way, and a packed arena clearly anticipating action. And action they got, as Bowen came out firing and Thunder happily followed suit. Both fighters started very aggressive and both landed several hard shots.

With 40 seconds remaining of the opening round, Thunder connected with a perfect left hook that shook Bowen to his toes, send him stumbling backwards with only the ropes keeping him from going down. Referee Denzil Creed correctly issued the eight-count, before allowing Bowen to continue.

Thunder, sensing an opportunity to get his man out of there quickly, attacked immediately, but Bowen used all his experience to weather the storm and survived the round, while a roaring crowd cheered the local hero in amazement of the astonishing three minutes of action they had just witnessed.

In round two, Thunder looked determined and repeatedly found a home for his left hook, which kept Bowen on the back-foot. But the Jamaican soon tried to mount his own attack, and showed that he would not go away easily. It was another round of furious, bombs-away stuff.

While the third round started with the boxers trading left hooks, and landing, things slowed down a bit as Thunder began to cut off the ring. But, true to the pulsating action of the two previous rounds, the third finished on a high note with toe-to-toe action.

In the fourth, Bowen started out aggressively and had Thunder in a bit of trouble. Looking recovered from the hard punches he received earlier, he now landed with his own power-shots. Thunder soon retaliated with two huge left hooks, but Bowen took them well and was clearly on top in what was his best round of the bout.

At this point, it was still anyone’s fight, and Bowen started round four by landing several left hooks, only for Thunder to come back and land his own left hooks. Bowen appeared to be getting stronger, and even started to mix in hard uppercuts and straight right hands.

But, as is often the case with big punchers, Thunder all of a sudden turned everything around when he hurt Bowen with a hard combination. Bowen, looking almost finished, got caught with another big left hook and stumbled back before referee Creed issued another eight count.

When Bowen was allowed to continue, Thunder ferociously attacked and landed yet another left hook which prompted Creed to jump in and stop Bowen on his feet. As the crowd went wild, Thunder was raised in the air after a magnificent fight and celebrated as the new WBF World Heavyweight Champion.

Not one to sleep on his laurels, a title defense was arranged for Thunder in a big home-coming fight in New Zealand in November of 1993, less than four months after he won the title. But first he tuned-up with a first round knockout of Mitieli Navuilawa in Fiji five weeks earlier.

The challenger for Thunder´s WBF world Heavyweight championship was former WBF World Cruiserweight Champion Johnny Nelson (23-9-1) from England, a man that had a bad start to his pro career but would later turn out to be one of the best Cruiserweights of all time.

And even though he was still essentially a Cruiserweight, more than twenty pounds lighter than Thunder, Nelson proved his class by winning a close but deserved unanimous decision.

Nelson would go on to make three successful defenses of the WBF World Heavyweight title, before moving down to Cruiserweight again where he won the WBO World title and defended it thirteen times before retiring as champion in 2005.

Despite the disappointment of losing his title so quickly, Jimmy Thunder was nowhere near done as a world class operator. He relocated to the USA, and the following year he won the IBO World title against Richard Mason (21-3-1), and defended it with a decision over former WBA Champion Tony Tubbs (39-5).

In 1995 he outscored former WBC World Champion Trevor Berbick (42-7-1), and stopped contenders Bomani Parker (14-2-1) and Dan Dancuta (16-2) in one and two rounds respectively, before dispatching Ray Anis (19-1) in seven rounds and Melvin Foster (20-2-1) in eight.

In 1996 he scored stoppages over Will Hinton (15-5-1), William Morris (15-11-1) and Quinn Navarre (18-4-1) in non-title fights, but his run came to an end in January of 1997 when future WBA World Champion John Ruiz (29-3) beat him by split decision.

Two months later Thunder returned with a bang when he scored what is in some record books listed as the quickest knockout in boxing history, when it took him 1,5 seconds to land the shot that would lay out Crawford Grimsley (20-1).

The official time of stoppage, including the count, was however 13 seconds and not quite the quickest of all time, but still impressive, as Grimsley had gone 12 rounds with George Foreman for the IBA world title in his previous fight.

But unfortunately for Thunder, there would be no more world championship opportunities. He was stopped in his next two outings, against Maurice Harris (8-8-2) and future WBO and IBF World Champion Chris Byrd (22-0), and despite a good victory over former two-time world champion (WBC & WBA) Tim Witherspoon (46-6) in 1998, he had little left.

From 1999 to 2002 he went 2-5, and ended his career back where it started, in Australia, losing on points over ten rounds to Colin Wilson (23-15). His overall record stands at 35-14 (28), after thirteen years as a professional and fights against nine former or future world champions, and several world title-challengers.

Thunder stayed in America, settling in Las Vegas where he has worked as a personal trainer and part-time bodyguard, but also went through hard times that saw him homeless for a period before getting married to his second wife, Iris, in 2009.


In 2011 it was reported that Thunder had been arrested the previous year and was in custody due to the fact that he hadn’t held a US Green Card since 2003, and his native American wedding to Iris was not recognized by law. He was released on bail in August 2011.

  Part 8: Juan Lazcano
  Part 7: Jeff Malcolm
  Part 6: Ricky Parkey
  Part 5: Carl Daniels
  Part 4: Angel Manfredy
  Part 3: Samson Dutch Boy Gym
  Part 2: Greg Haugen
  Part 1: Johnny Nelson
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