Thunder, popular ’90s Samoan boxer, dies at 54

Boxing

Popular 1990s Samoan heavyweight contender Jimmy Thunder died on Wednesday in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, due to complications from a brain tumor. He was 54.

Thunder, who was born Ti’a James Senio Peau and went by Jimmy Peau before adopting his boxing stage name, had recently undergone surgery in Auckland for a brain tumor, according to The Associated Press.

Thunder, who boxed professionally from 1989 to 2002 after a standout amateur career, was a staple of the old “Tuesday Night Fights” series on USA Network. That is where he notched one of the most memorable and fastest knockouts in boxing history when he starched Crawford Grimsley with the first punch of the fight, a right hand on the chin, in Flint, Michigan, on March 18, 1997. Officially, the fight was 13 seconds, including the referee’s 10-count.

In back-to-back fights, Thunder won 12-round decisions against former heavyweight world titleholders Tony Tubbs in December 1994 and Trevor Berbick in March 1995. He also defeated former world titleholder Tim Witherspoon by 10-round decision in 1998. But Thunder (35-14, 28 KOs) also lost a pair of bouts in 1997 to two men who would go on to win heavyweight world titles, a split decision to John Ruiz and a ninth-round knockout to Chris Byrd.

“My heartfelt condolences go out to Jimmy’s family. I was saddened to hear that Jimmy passed away,” said Banner Promotions president Artie Pelullo, who promoted Thunder during his heyday. “He was a real good guy and true professional. It was my pleasure to be associated with Jimmy. He was a good fighter who gave the fans a lot of exciting fights when we promoted him, especially on the ‘Tuesday Night Fights’ series on USA Network. It’s always sad to see someone pass away at a young age.”

Former heavyweight titleholder Joseph Parker, a Samoan who is New Zealand’s top active heavyweight, paid tribute on Facebook to Thunder, who won various regional titles.

“Rest In Peace Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Peau, a Samoan boxing Icon and a pioneer of the sport in our Samoan community,” Parker wrote. “Thank you for your service to our countries, both Samoa and New Zealand. You, along with many other greats, some (past) and some who are still with us today, paved the way for us up and coming fighters to be seen and heard on an international scale, so for that THANK YOU. You will not be forgotten along with your world’s fastest KO record. RIP.”

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