Johnson defending '04 honor vs. Tarver

Light heavyweight knows what persistence all about

Boxing

June 18, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

The Fighter of the Year in 2004 was not Bernard Hopkins. Or Winky Wright. Or Marco Antonio Barrera. Or James Toney.

It was Glen Johnson, who, as recently as 2003, considered retirement after winning only six of 15 fights during a frustrating downward spiral.

"But, somehow, you know you have to pick yourself back up," said Johnson, a 36-year-old Jamaican-born fighter known as "The Road Warrior" for his reputation of engaging rivals on their home turf.

"You have to have faith to go back to the gym and start all over again. Try, once again, to do what you know you can do, to accomplish what you know you're capable of accomplishing."

Johnson's perseverance has resulted in a 4-0-2 record in his last six bouts. The comeback included avenging an earlier draw against England's Clinton Woods and a knockout of Roy Jones Jr. in September 2004 - four months after Antonio Tarver became the first man to knock out Jones.

In December, Johnson abdicated his International Boxing Federation title to face Tarver, and his subsequent split-decision win helped earn him Fighter of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers' Association.

Johnson (42-9-2, 28 knockouts) is considered the undisputed light heavyweight champion as he returns to the ring for tonight's rematch with Tarver (22-3, 18 knockouts) at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.

Originally nicknamed, "The Gentleman," Johnson is not a particularly talented boxer, power puncher or defensive technician. Instead, his weapons - crisp punching, consistency, durability and a high work rate - remain as nondescript as his name, even as he struggles not to allow his recent honor to cloud his vision.

The father of three will re-marry next month. He's entertaining potential endorsement contracts with nutrition companies, as well as a clothing line. So busy was Johnson two days ago that he barely had time to field a reporter's phone call.

"This life is brand new for me. I simply can't compare this to anything I've ever experienced," said Johnson, whose record hovers scarcely above .500 (10-9-2, six KOs) in the series of bouts after losing his first fight to Hopkins in 1997. "I'm just staying focused, trying to deal with it as best as I can, not letting it get into my head too much."

A native of Clarendon, Jamaica, Johnson moved to Miami when he was 14. But he said he "never thought I was going to box, never even watched boxing" until he literally walked into the sport six years later.

"I was coming home from work one day and there was a building they were fixing up. It was the Miami police department putting up an amateur boxing gym," Johnson says on the the Web site of his promoter, Goossen Tutor.

"I walked in one day and they said, `We want guys to come in and train. There's no charge.' I was a fat boy when I started - 195 pounds. That was my motivation, to lose weight."

Johnson's weight loss was the sport's gain. Competing at 165 and 178 pounds, he went 35-5 as an amateur, winning two Florida Golden Gloves titles.

Johnson debuted as a pro at 24 in February 1993 with a first-round knockout of Yurek del Rio, his first of three straight stoppages. He was 32-0 with 22 KOs in July '97 when he faced Hopkins in the latter's fifth defense of his IBF middleweight title.

Johnson was never knocked down against Hopkins, but was stopped for the first and only time of his career as the result of a barrage of punches at 1:23 of the 11th round.

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