Johnson fights for respect
Glen Johnson’s nickname, “The Road Warrior,” is both a compliment and symbol of his frustration.
The light heavyweight contender, who faces Daniel Judah on Friday night in Hollywood, Fla., on ESPN2, has had considerable success. In 2004, his best year, he beat Clinton Woods, Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver to become RING Fighter of the Year.
The rest of his career, though, has been marked by one controversial loss after another – often in the hostile territory of his opponents – that have left him cynical about boxing but as determined as ever to succeed at 40.
“I’m still unsatisfied with what I’ve accomplished so far. I feel like I still have a lot to offer,” he said by phone a few days ago.
Johnson’s career record – 48-12-2, 33 knockouts – seems to paint a picture of a vulnerable fighter. However, at least seven of his losses could’ve (should’ve?) gone the other way on the scorecards. Examples: Sven Ottke (in Germany), Silvio Branco (in Italy) and Julio Gonzalez (in L.A.).
The most-recent disappointment was a close, but unanimous decision loss to unbeaten rising star Chad Dawson last April. The decision wasn’t a robbery in everyone’s eyes but Johnson is certain his rally in the late rounds should’ve earned him the victory.
And that fight was in Tampa, Fla., not too far from Johnson’s home in Miami.
“It was very disappointing, very hurtful,” the well-spoken native of Jamaica said about the Dawson loss. “I’ve paid my dues in this sport; I’ve put in so much time, so much work, and I’m still trying to get credit.
“The politics of boxing are against me. That’s my toughest opponent.”
In other words, he never managed to gain the connections some believe are required to win close decisions.
Johnson said it all starts with fans. He has never had a substantial fan base, which is required to sign with a major promoter, which is required to get valuable television exposure, which is important to become rich and famous.
Instead, Johnson, promoted now by Seminole Warriors Boxing in Florida, has always been that high-level “opponent” with a recognizable name who will fight anywhere, fight hard but probably lose.
Henry Foster, his manager since 2001, likened him to the “B” side of a long-play record and said that if he couldn’t become a star after what he did 2004 then he might be “destined to always be a reflection of the fighter in the opposite corner.”
Johnson seems to acknowledge that possibility.
“Everything is geared around the fans,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. If television networks believe you have fans, they put you on to maximize their ratings opportunities. If they don’t, they put on the next guy. The same goes with promoters: If they don’t think you put butts in the seats, they look for someone who will.
“I’m Jamaican-American. And Jamaicans don’t really follow boxing. American guys can be a big deal here. And fighters from England or Puerto Rico or Mexico ÔÇª they have backing, so they make money. Me? I just have to continue doing what I’m doing and making a living.”
That he is able to still do that is impressive.
Johnson turned 40 last month but you wouldn’t know it. Dawson is 26 and on many lists of best fighters pound-for-pound in the world yet Johnson almost beat him, an indication that his No. 3 RING rating is warranted.
And he doesn’t have any secrets. He trains hard, doesn’t allow his weight to fluctuate between fights and doesn’t abuse his body with “alcohol, drugs or anything crazy,” he said. He’s also hungry because hasn’t made a fortune in the sport.
Thus, he remains a title contender when most fighters are well into their second careers. As the WBC’s No. 2 contender, he expects to face the winner of the fight between champion Adrian Diaconu and No. 1 Silvio Branco in what would be his eighth major title fight.
That is if he beats Judah, with whom he drew in 2003.
“My advice to him is, ‘As long as you’re still the best, there’s no sense in walking away,'” Foster said. “We’ll get our breaks; we’ve gotten our breaks. And we’ll continue to get some along the way.”
And maybe, just maybe, one of those breaks will be more recognition of his accomplishments.
Ironically, the high-profile loss to Dawson might’ve helped. The WBC demonstrated its respect for Johnson – and perhaps acknowledged the controversial nature of the decision – by keeping him in the title picture and fans went directly to Johnson.
“When I won against Roy Jones, I got a lot of recognition,” he said. “A lot of people came up to me and said, ‘Man, that was an amazing fight.’ I got a lot of compliments. But after the Dawson loss, even more people came up to me. They thought it was a robbery, a raw deal. Ten times as many people came up to me as the Jones fight.
“In the airport, one guy stood in front of me with tears in his eyes. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing that someone cared that much about Glen Johnson. I didn’t think they were out there.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]