Olympian Delante “Tiger” Johnson ready to make a statement in his pro debut
Coming off a run to the quarterfinals this past summer at the Tokyo Olympics, welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson is ready for his professional debut and it will come on the undercard of one of the biggest fights of the year.
Johnson will face Antonius Grable in a four-rounder in a preliminary bout on the undercard of WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford’s highly anticipated showdown with former two-time titlist Shawn Porter on Saturday (ESPN+ PPV, 9 p.m. ET, $69.99) at the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Johnson’s fight with Grable (3-1-1, 3 KOs), 29, of Sarasota, Florida , will be part of the ESPN+ stream of preliminaries beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
“I feel amazing. I actually didn’t think I’d be able to get on this card at first but I got a blessing and get a chance to fight on one of the biggest cards of the year,” Johnson told The Ring. “I definitely appreciate Top Rank for having me on the card. I’m really excited. It’s like a dream come true.”
The 23-year-old from Cleveland, who recently signed with manager David McWater of Split-T Management, whom he has known for years, and then with Top Rank, lost a decision to eventual gold medalist Roniel Iglesias of Cuba. But he did not let that dampen his excitement for having achieved a longtime goal of boxing in the Olympics.
“I had a coach that passed away a few years back, Clint Martin. He trained me and 2008 Olympian Raynell Williams, and I’m his first pro fighter that got a chance to sign to a big promotion, so it’s like a dream come true, man,” said Johnson, who started boxing at age 7.
“A lot of people didn’t think I’d make it to the Olympics. You got a lot of people who thought I wasn’t going to make it past the first round. I kept my promise to my coach that I’d be his next Olympian. It was always a childhood dream to go to the Olympics since I saw Raynell go.”
Also part of that dream was to go on to a professional boxing career.
“I always wanted to go pro but the Olympic was always the first goal,” said Johnson, who has been called “Tiger” since he was a baby because of a birthmark that looked like a tiger stripe. “That was always my No. 1 goal – get to the Olympics and then go pro. Boxing has always been something I’ve been a part of. I’ve got cousins and uncles on my father’s side that were boxers. It’s always been in me.”
Top Rank also promotes two of Johnson’s Tokyo teammates, featherweight silver medalist Duke Ragan and middleweight Troy Isley. They both signed with Top Rank and turned pro before being added to the Olympic team at the 11th hour.
Johnson was not sure what the Olympics would be like because of the fact that spectators were not permitted because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he was pleasantly surprised once he got to Tokyo, where he won his first two bouts.
“I definitely had a good time. We all thought because of Covid our experience was going to be kind of messed up, but once we got there everybody there made us feel special,” Johnson said. “We felt like Olympians. The experience was normal. We had a real Olympic experience. We were in the Olympic village and we had a chance to meet people. We got to meet a lot of other athletes. We definitely had a fun time there. It’s something I’ll never forget, that and getting to fight the top people and share the ring with top fighters.”
The 5-foot-10 Johnson, who is trained by Renard Safo and Prenice Brewer, finished his amateur career 188-17 and won a gold medal in the 2016 Youth World Championships and bronze at the 2019 Pan Am Games, along with medals at other major tournaments. He also lost a decision to current lightweight contender Ryan Garcia in the 132-pound division at the 2016 U.S. Youth National Championships.
But now it’s on to the pro ranks, where the right-handed Johnson hopes to follow in the footsteps of his favorite fighters — Sugar Ray Leonard, Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones and Andre Ward – by eventually winning a world title.
“Besides me being word champion I just want to help my family,” Johnson said of his other goal for his pro career. “Just do enough to help my family and invest my money and start my own businesses and keep the family wealth going.”
It all starts with his pro debut on Saturday.
“I plan on winning the fight, but my goal is to win in a real good fashion,” Johnson said. “I’m going to be real entertaining coming into the pro game. People are gonna like me for the style I have. I’m fast, strong, I’m an all-around fighter. I’ve got real good speed, real good power. So, I feel like I’m gonna be real entertaining and most likely it’s gonna be a knockout in my debut.”