Callum Johnson fighting fit for Artur Beterbiev IBF 175-pound world title challenge
It’s been an amazing turnaround for light heavyweight contender Callum Johnson.
The unbeaten boxer-puncher from Lincolnshire, England, was inactive for all of 2017 due to health and injury issues, but blasted his way back into contention in March with a stunning first-round stoppage of Frank Buglioni to claim the British championship.
It was the type of performance that sends shockwaves through the sport. It was the type of performance that gets you noticed. And it turned out to be the type of performance that would set up a potentially lifechanging world title showdown.
Opponent Artur Beterbiev, who is rated No. 7 by The Ring at light heavyweight, is the IBF titleholder and a prohibitive favorite. However, Johnson has given it his all in training camp and will arrive at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Saturday determined to upset the fearsome Russian champion.
“All the hard work is done now and we’re just going over final preparations,” said Johnson (17-0, 12 knockouts) in an interview with The Ring. “Everything has gone to plan, we’ve done the training, we’ve got a game plan, and we’re ready to go.
“I’ve completed some good sparring with (new Ring Magazine and WBC super middleweight champion) Callum (Smith) and Sam Hyde among others. We also did some good technical sparring out here in Chicago and worked on tactics. We’re just getting the juices flowing and putting the finishing touches on.”
The overwhelming majority of fans and experts feel that it will Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs) putting the finishing touches on Johnson.
The new champion knocked out Enrico Koelling in the 12th and final round to capture a vacant world title belt in November. Prior to his perfect professional run, Beterbiev was also recognized as one of Russia’s top amateurs, claiming two gold medals at the European Championships in 2006 and 2010, and gold at the World Championships in 2009.
“Beterbiev had an extensive amateur pedigree, but I also have a good amateur pedigree,” argued Johnson, who captured a Commonwealth gold medal at Delhi 2010.
“We’re both 33, we both can punch, we both come to fight, and we’ve both been pretty inactive over the last couple of years. I think it’s all down to who gets it right on the night. We both like to get down to business, so I think the fans watching will be in for a treat.”
It’s not Johnson’s job to portray his opponent as indestructible. The laidback Englishman has completed a grueling and taxing training camp and, despite the odds, his paramount objective is to knock Beterbiev into the middle of next week. He’s a fighter after all and that’s what fighters do.
Johnson’s final hard week of training was completed without trainer Joe Gallagher who was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Callum Smith. The Ring Trainer of the Year for 2015 guided Smith to a seventh-round knockout over George Groves but had very little time to celebrate.
“I travelled to America with Joe when he got back to the U.K.,” said Johnson. “I did my last week of training at home, but all the hard work was done anyway. I’d done all the main training, and Joe just set me a program which I completed.
“Joe got back from Jeddah on the Saturday morning, we were in the gym Saturday afternoon and flew out to America on Sunday. He was wide awake because he was still buzzing. The adrenaline was keeping him going.”
The entire Gallagher stable is on a high following Friday’s World Boxing Super Series final. Smith’s victory was arguably the greatest to come out of that decorated camp in Bolton, although Johnson was very confident that his friend would prevail.
“It was unbelievable but expected at the same time,” said Saturday’s challenger. “It wasn’t a shock in terms of the performance, or the way the fight went. It was just like ‘wow’ in terms of watching the event and how it all unfolded.”
Johnson now looks to add a fistful of icing to one very large cake. If he can pull off a victory over Beterbiev, there will be no time limit on the celebrations which would be sure to follow.
The fight will be shown live on Sky Sports in the U.K. and DAZN in the U.S.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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