Georgia native Matt Thomas pushes to get chess boxing into the Olympics

Sports

BUCKHEAD, Ga. (WSAV) – Matt Thomas wants to be in the Olympics: no different than thousands, if not millions, of other people from all around the world.

Unlike the rest, though, Thomas plays a sport that is not in the Olympics; in fact, it has never been in the Olympics.

That hasn’t stopped Thomas from launching a one-man crusade to get his game in front of the world.

“My mom wasn’t too crazy about me competing in combat sports,” Thomas laughs. “She was like ‘oh great, another way for my son to get punched in the face.'”

Thomas, a longtime boxing enthusiast, doesn’t mind when other people try to punch him. It’s the only way he knows how to live.

“I am definitely a competition junkie. I love to compete, I love to push others and I love to win.”

When a shoulder injury sidelined the Atlanta native from the ring, he had to look elsewhere for his competition fix.

“I was sitting in a recovery bed and I was playing a lot of online chess and watching a lot of old fights and YouTube served me a video that was chess boxing,” Thomas said.

Yes, you heard that right. Chess boxing.

“It just auto-played a chess boxing video and I said this has got to be made up.”

Thomas is not the only one with that visceral reaction to the union of chess and boxing.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life,” said Chris Castillo, Thomas’ friend and a fan of combat sports. “At the time they seemed two different, two totally opposite things, chess and boxing. This can’t be real, it can’t exist.”

Well, it’s very real. It involves two people, one board and one ring. Fighters alternate between a pre-designated number of boxing and chess rounds until one of three things happen: a knockout, a checkmate or the expiration of one’s chess clock.

“It is state change management, so it’s about being able to psych yourself up to go box, then being able to calm yourself down to come back to the board,” Thomas said.

One day, Thomas reached out to Castillo with an assignment unlike any he’d ever been offered: fly with Thomas to Kolkata, India for the 2018 World Championships of Chess Boxing.

“Just as when I found out about chess boxing, I was pretty much dropped,” Castillo said. “I was like ‘wow, this guy wants me to fly halfway around the world.'”

“I never thought I’d compete for my country on an international stage, especially for something that I feel like I was so tailor-made for,” Thomas said.

Just eighteen months after discovering the sport, Thomas won the world title for the 198-pound weight class, winning his final bout by checkmate.

“You really wanted to see him win and when he finally got the win it was like ‘wow this is amazing, he worked so hard for this and he achieved his goals,'” Castillo said.

These days, Thomas is more than an athlete; he is an evangelist preaching the gospel of chess boxing, hoping that there are potential converts out there.

One of them, Dylan Jordan, found Thomas through LinkedIn and stopped by to train at Thomas’ boxing gym.

“I have been kind of aware of the sport of chess boxing for a long time and just started searching online,” Jordan said. “This seems like a fun way to combine things I like to do and I just got in for our first workout and got in some good work.”

It’s going to take a lot more people like Jordan for Thomas to get what he really wants.

“The goal of chess boxing is to be on the international stage in the Olympics. What you need is competition from the majority of the counties in the Olympics and you need a host country to kind of vouch for your sport.”

Getting a new event into the Games is a harrowing process, one that often takes decades of growth and consistent competition in dozens of countries. Applicants must satisfy 35 different criteria as defined in the Olympic charter.

It sounds ridiculous until you remember that people regarded lots of modern Olympic sports the same way at different points in time.

“You see things like skateboarding and breakdancing, things that were niche community kind of sports when I was growing up, now being included in the Olympics. So no one can say that’s impossible for chess boxing,” Thomas said.

If it happens, it will take a whole lot more people like Matt Thomas, a man determined to elevate his passion onto the world’s biggest stage, by hook or by rook.

“If he gets enough voices pushing behind him, then he could – man, I could see it as an Olympic sport,” Castillo said.

Thomas is hosting a chess boxing exhibition bout in Atlanta to raise awareness about the upcoming world championships.

He is hoping to eventually start chess boxing youth programs near Atlanta as well.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

WSAV Blitz Twitter

Trending Stories