Cliff “Magic” Thomas was born with a hole in his heart the size of a silver dollar. His parents, Frank Sr. and Katie Mae Thomas were informed after an operation that left him with 142 stitches across his chest in the form of a cross that if they were careful with the lad he might live to age fourteen. He was not allowed to participate in contact sports at Bel Air High School in El Paso, Texas until his senior year. Then he was only allowed to compete in track and field. However, he yearned for some type of combat sport. So he decided he would try karate in 1972 and hooked up with trainer Robert Nava in El Paso, Texas. He was only fourteen and didn’t have the money for lessons. Nava let him clean the gym and do other errands to pay for his training.
In 1976, after only four years of karate training, Cliff earned his Black Belt. He was soon winning trophies at non-full-contact karate events and longed for full contact kickboxing. He signed up with Hilary and Tony Sandoval. Realizing they had a prize student, the Sandoval brothers hooked him up with the grand master of kickboxing, Demitrius Havanas, of Dallas, Texas. They also landed another top-ranked trainer in Ishmael Robles. Soon thereafter, it was noticed that Cliff needed stand up boxing skills. The late and renowned El Paso boxing trainer, Rocky Galarza, was next on board. Over his championship career, other karate trainers would include Joe Soto and Rick Reyna. Rocky brought boxing coach Tom McKay on board and the Sandoval’s would, over the years, employ boxing coaches Ralph Ruiz and George Villa to enhance Cliff’s boxing capabilities.
The Sandoval’s created a dream team, the perfect fit for the ‘Magic Man.’ Learning fast, furious and skillfully from his select team, Cliff would demonstrate over the next twenty five years that he was not only capable of beating the best, he beat them with authority. His first championship was as a 20-1 underdog against Minnesota’s undefeated PKA World Champion, Gordon Franks. El Paso was so fortunate that the Sandoval’s arranged to have the fight in the Sun City. On ESPN in 1980, Cliff came fit and ready and exploded his dynamic tools all over Franks, bloodied him early and knocked him out in the third round. It was amazingly, El Paso’s first world championship in any sport. It was a ‘Magical’ time in El Paso and the after-fight party lingered well into the next morning. Cliff was our hero and the next question was, “How long would his reign last?”
Cliff had bigger dreams then just one world championship. He would prove to be the greatest kick boxer of the world. Over the next two decades he won seven world championships in five different weight divisions. He was never officially down in over seventy matches. He even came out of retirement at age forty five to win two world championships…a magnificent feat in its own right and proof that the ‘Magic’ was nothing mysterious; it was dedication, furious training trials, and discipline; traits that had been his forte since age fourteen.
Cliff ‘Magic’ Thomas gave El Paso and the nation the rarest of athletes. Children born in 1980 when Cliff won his first title were able to experience the magic in their teens and as young adults in their twenties. Today, newer generations can view him on youtube and other network places and even in person as he makes personal appearances. Or, they can train with him in Fort Worth and Dallas where he now resides. A book detailing round by round blows and kicks of his championship triumphs, ‘Magic! Magic! Magic!, authored by Thomas W. McKay, is now a collector’s item.
Thomas W. McKay
Photo: Cliff "Majic" Thomas (Left) and Grady "Scott" Stewart (Right)