Callum Johnson: ‘Artur Beterbiev doesn’t punch any harder than I do’
We’ve all heard it, hell we’ve all said it at one time or another. Brave keyboard warriors telling individuals who put their lives on the line for a living what they’re afraid of. When you put it in those terms, it sounds kind of silly, right?
“You’ve got no chance!”
This is a level up from “You’re ducking!” Even when a fighter, predominantly an underdog, steps up to the mark, there’s a host of macho fans telling them how the night they have longed for will end in crushing defeat. Boxing is replete with these social media-based scenarios and that will never change.
Welcome to 21st century combat sports.
Hard-hitting Englishman Callum Johnson, the reigning British and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion, faces the fearsome Artur Beterbiev for the IBF 175-pound title on Oct. 6 at a venue to be confirmed. The 32-year-old boxer-puncher, nicknamed “The One”, has already experienced the “You’ve got no chance” routine and the irony is not lost on him.
“There’s been quite a lot of positive comments, but you can’t help but get those people who want to cut in with negatives,” said Johnson, who is unbeaten in 17 fights with 12 knockouts. “They call you crazy, they call you this, they call you that.
“I’ve been in the game since I was 12, and I’ve dreamed of fighting for a world title all my life. This opportunity has come to me. Why would I turn that down? If I turn it down people say, excuse my language, that I’m a shithouse (coward), but if I take it, I’m crazy.
“If a lower level football team get the opportunity to play Manchester United, then they’re going to take it. It’s the same thing. I’m not saying I’m lower level because I don’t think I am, but I’ve yet to prove myself. The people calling me crazy now are the same people who were saying I was crazy for fighting (Frank) Buglioni after my layoff.”
Johnson has endured a spate of injuries over the past two years which derailed his career momentum. In March, he found himself back in the ring against a rejuvenated Buglioni and many felt 17 months of inactivity would be decisive at the O2 Arena in London.
It wasn’t. Johnson, who stayed gym fit throughout his time out, blasted his way through Buglioni in just 91 seconds and critics looked on with their mouths agape. Proving people wrong is satisfying, but proving them wrong with a first-round finish in your biggest fight is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Buglioni is no Beterbiev. Johnson knows it, the fans know it, the media know it and the challenger’s coach, Joe Gallagher, THE RING Trainer of the Year for 2015, knows it. However, Johnson is encouraged by some head-to-head facts, as well as solid belief in his own ability.
“He’s been inactive like I have,” said Johnson in relation to Beterbiev having had only two fights in two years. “We were both very good amateurs. He had the better amateur career because of his World (Championship) gold medal, but I never went to the World Championships so I never got that opportunity.
“I’ve fought Russian fighters before and I’ve beat Russian fighters. I’ve boxed big, strong Eastern Europeans. I’ve had 50-odd fights at international level and people don’t realize the experience I have. That will stand me in good stead in this fight.”
They say looks can be deceiving but in Beterbiev’s case they’re 100 percent on the level. He looks like a bad ass and he is a bad ass. The Russian power-puncher turned professional in June 2013 and has a chilling record of 12-0 (12 KOs). In November, he captured the vacant IBF title by stopping Enrico Koelling in the 12th and final round.
“He’s a big puncher, but I honestly believe that he doesn’t punch any harder than I do,” said Johnson, an authentic knockout artist in his own right. “I don’t believe he’s any stronger than I am, but we’ll find out on the night.
“I believe, on my day, that if I detonate on someone’s chin they can’t take it because I don’t think it’s possible to take it. And that goes vice-versa; if he detonates on my chin, I’ll probably not be able to take it.
“This will be an exciting fight. Whether it lasts one round or 12 rounds, I think it’s a great clash of styles. Obviously, I come to fight and I look to take guys out and so does he.”
New York and Chicago are in the running to host Beterbiev’s first title defense and Johnson has no preference. “I’m happy with either one of them,” said the ambitious challenger. “I’ve never been to Chicago and winning a world title in New York would be huge.”
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
Struggling to locate a copy of THE RING Magazine? Try here or
You can order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.