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Johnson will be missed when he finally walks away

05
Aug

Glen Johnson is 41 and near the end of his career. Any fight could be his last, including his matchup against light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud on the Devon Alexander-Andreas Kotelnik undercard Saturday in St. Louis.

And that’s a sad thought.

Johnson won’t be remembered as a great fighter, although he has been a damned good one for a long time. The thing many people will remember most about him is his character and endearing manner outside the ring.

The Jamaican-born resident of Miami is the type of fighter who works hard in every camp, fights his heart out and treats everyone well along the way. No matter what.



Johnson has been on the wrong side of many controversial decisions, at least in part because the “Road Warrior” fought so many times in his opponents’ hometowns. Losses to Sven Ottke, Silvio Branco and Clinton Woods — two of the three for titles — stand out. Johnson was never happy about his fate but he accepted it each time and kept trying.

And in one remarkable year, 2004, his perseverance paid off. He beat in succession Woods (decision), Roy Jones Jr. (KO 9) and Antonio Tarver (decision) to become everybody’s Fighter of the Year.

Six years later, he’s still at it, still whipping himself into fantastic physical condition, still leaving it all in the ring and still living up to his other nickname: “Gentleman.”

Johnson (50-13-2, 34 knockouts) demonstrated that again on a recent conference call that included Cloud, an undefeated young slugger with an abundance of bravado.

“Basically, I don’t think Glen Johnson is the fighter he used to be,” Cloud said as Johnson listened quietly. “I don’t think I’ll have any problems winning the fight on Aug. 7.”

“Even after his last fight against Yusuf Mack?” someone asked, referring to Johnson’s upset sixth-round knockout in February that earned him a shot at Cloud’s 175-pound belt.

“Not impressed,” Cloud said, “not impressed.”

Johnson was asked whether he had a response.

“Not really,” he said, clearly unfazed. “I mean I don’t have to talk a lot of noise. To me, it’s all about stepping into the ring and doing what I do, what I’ve been doing for many years.

“I’m never somebody who disrespects anybody. That’s not my style. I go in and do my work.”

Cloud continued his disrespectful dialogue, saying that Mack was mentally unprepared the night he met Johnson and the old man would be facing a different fighter on Saturday.

“That’s certainly correct,” Johnson responded. “Yusaf Mack is a totally different fighter than Tavoris Cloud. I didn’t get prepared for Yusaf Mack for this fight; I prepared for Tavoris Cloud. I’m looking forward to it.”

Someone asked Johnson whether his vast experience will be a significant advantage on Saturday.

Johnson wouldn’t even go there, not because of his magnanimous nature but because of his focus. His job is to prepare himself as best he can and block out such extraneous thoughts, a philosophy that obviously has worked for him in his career.

And he certainly isn’t going to change for his 66th fight.

“I don’t think out of the box too much,” he said. “Once you start doing that, all kinds of things creep into your mind. I do what I’m supposed to do. I’m ready, well prepared, not looking for no easy way out. I do what I do and hopefully I come out victorious.

“ÔǪ It takes tremendous courage to keep going back and doing what I do based on experiences throughout my career. It’s not easy ÔǪ knowing what a lot of the outcomes have been. I just have to stay focused, keep my eye on the prize.”

Johnson has had to take a rougher road than some of his fellow 40-somethings, who often make big money fighting each other or marginal opponents because of their name recognition.

Johnson doesn’t have a big name so he must work for everything he gets. For example, he has twice fought Chad Dawson while Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. have avoided the 28-year-old marvel.

And sometimes Johnson makes almost no money. He fought Mack for next to nothing knowing that a victory could translate into a bigger opportunity and a healthy payday, which has turned out to be the case.

He says he has no interest in joining a senior’s circuit regardless of the money.

“If I can’t do it on the highest level, it don’t make no sense to do it,” he said. “A lot of those guys, they have celebrity status, like Bernard Hopkins. Bernard Hopkins could fight a dead guy and still make decent money just fighting off his name. Roy Jones and other guys do similar things.

“I can’t do that. And even if I could, I wouldn’t take that route. ÔǪ It’s been a hard career. And it’ll be that way until the end.”

Could this be the end?

Johnson acknowledges without much emotion that 41-year-old fighters with a limited number of fans don’t usually get opportunities to fight for a major belt. This, his seventh world title fight, could be his last.

And, regardless of the outcome, he’s going to enjoy every minute of it.

“I’m blessed,” he said, the softness of his voice belying his career choice. “I’m in that elite (group) that can still do sports at an age when most people say you shouldn’t be able to do it. I’m thankful I’m able to do what I do at this age. I don’t know what the answer is. People ask me all the time: ‘How do you do it?’

“I just train hard, don’t have any bad habits like drinking or smoking or drugs or anything like that. ÔǪ I don’t know. I’m still able to do it and do it well. I’m thankful. I just try to represent myself well each time.”

And he succeeds.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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