On September 23rd, 2000 at York Hall in London, England, Glen Johnson stopped Toks Owoh to capture the IBF Inter-Continental super middleweight title. Back then, Johnson was considered nothing more than a well-traveled, rugged journeyman and it was a few years before he broke through into the big time. But this fight is notable because it's the last time that the “Road Warrior” came into the ring as a bona fide super middleweight.
After that contest, he embarked on what was a highly profitable and notable run as a light heavyweight, where he battled the likes of Antonio Tarver (twice), Roy Jones, Chad Dawson and, most recently, Tavoris Cloud.
But on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Glen Johnson moves back down to 168 pounds when he faces Allan Green as a late replacement in Showtime's “Super Six.” The question is, at age 41, can Johnson fight effectively at this weight?
"Oh, definitely, I'm doing it," said Johnson on Monday to Maxboxing via cell phone from Miami. "I'm doing it for sure. I already made 168 pounds; I'm there already. Making the weight is not an issue anymore. I've been at the weight now for basically about two weeks. So I'm ready to go. So for me, it's just now getting in the groove; step in there and take care of that business. I didn't leave the super middleweight division because I couldn't make it anymore. I left the super middleweight division because light heavyweight opportunities came to me."
But we've seen in recent years that fighters who drop down in weight seem to suffer from it- most notably Roy Jones and Chris Byrd (who lost much more weight, given that they were heavyweights in previous fights). Johnson is essentially losing just seven pounds but seeing that he had some problems making weight for his August bout with Cloud, should a boxer north of 40 really be migrating to a lower weight class?
"I didn't have problems," he says of his ordeal versus Cloud, "I just went about making the weight the wrong way. The fact that with the layoff, the disappointment of the fight not happening, I'm not a guy to make excuses with the way I did it. I thought I could get away with it and at the end of the day, it didn't work out. I didn't make up excuses and I don't really try to find anything to point to about situations. We make decisions and go with it and sometimes it's the wrong one. And that time, it was."
His manager, Henry Foster, says of that situation, "The weight thing is being grossly overplayed. A lot of people have commented on the ‘day after’ weight where they listed it at 193 pounds. That was Glen with all his clothes, shoes, belt, wallet, cell phone, everything on, in the dressing room before he changed. He didn't have a problem making weight; he's never had a problem making weight. Cloud was a tougher guy than I thought and I think we won the fight. But again, it isn't that Glen wasn't at his best; I think he did what he could."
Perhaps it was the protracted layoff after his dominant performance versus Yusaf Mack; maybe it was Father Time catching up to him but for whatever reason, he didn't have his trademark finishing kick against Cloud.
"You could look at it in different ways," says Johnson. "I mean, I didn't feel old; I felt great. So I'm not going to blame it on age or anything like that. I'm not going to blame it on how I lost the weight. I'm not going to say. The situation happened; I don't know why I didn't have my kick that I normally have. It's just one of those things where I work with it, man. When I go in the ring, I give it everything I got and that's all that I had that night. And I can live with that."
After that loss, which was contested for Cloud's IBF light heavyweight title, Johnson didn't have an abundance of options awaiting him. Before this opportunity came up, they were hoping to land an ESPN2 date in January for an elimination bout versus Aleksy Kuziemski. Then they got the call from their promoter, Lou DiBella, who informed them of the opportunity to face Allan Green as part of Showtime's super middleweight round-robin tourney.
"My immediate reaction was joy and elation, coupled with anxiety about broaching the weight loss. The new weight division for Glen because we had talked about it in the past," said Foster, "most notably after the last Clinton Woods fight, regarding [Joe] Calzaghe. He was adamant he couldn't or wouldn't do it. But I still had my heart in my mouth when I called Glen and I told him about the proposition."
Initially there was talk of a catchweight in the low 170s but ultimately for the integrity of the tournament, this match-up would have to take place at a weight limit of 168 pounds.
It turns out that because Johnson had gotten right back into the gym, where he worked alongside IBF super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute, that he decided to take the offer. "It wasn't an easy decision; I wouldn't say I didn't have some thoughts about it, obviously. I thought about it for about, I don't know, maybe 40 seconds or so. But Henry Foster has been trying to get me back to super middleweight for about two years. And I kept telling him, 'No, I can make that weight and I'm not interested in making that weight. I'm just going to fight at light heavyweight’.
"But to be honest, when you look at the light heavyweight division, I fought everybody there that had any clout, any qualification and some of those fights I'm not going to get again. I'm running out of options in the light heavyweight division. So when this opportunity came, being a part of this tournament, it's such a prestigious tournament; I couldn't say no and the fact that we spoke to a nutritionist a few months prior to see if I could go back to super middleweight and she said I could. I had enough fat to lose; if I really dedicate myself and decided to work hard, I could. So y' know, with that in mind, when that phone call came, if I would have never gone to the nutritionist and she told me I would make that weight, I would probably would've said no to the opportunity.
"But lucky for me, God works in mysterious ways where I was already at the nutritionist about a month before the Cloud fight. I knew I could do it. I just didn't know if I could do it within the time frame that I had to work with."
So can this seemingly ageless, modern-day gladiator do it one more time?
"I don't want to jinx myself but Glen has rolled back the clock," claimed Foster. "He's ten years younger and if not ten years younger- we don't need him to be ten years younger- maybe six years younger. Because if I tell you that he looks like he did when he fought Roy Jones, that's the kind of Glen you're going to see. He's lean, he's focused, we did this with the aid of a nutritionist and it's just been a phenomenal camp. I wish the fight was today."
And if Johnson needed any further impetus to make the super middleweight limit, there is the $30,000 per pound penalty he faces for coming in heavy. But the reality is, this is a man of integrity, not Joan Guzman. No such clauses are needed here.
"Y' know for me, just signing my name to a contract that says I'm going to be at a weight is great motivation," he says, laughing. "Because I believe my word is bigger than anything else. I don't believe I ever in my whole career showed up at a weigh-in overweight. So that $30,000 doesn't mean to me as much as it would mean to some guys.
He's as principled as he is tough.
"Either way, I'm coming in at 168 or less. I'm not going to come in heavier than that."
And he assures boxing fans that in this case, less will be more.
"Without a doubt, you can be there in the arena to see it or you can see it on Showtime and if you miss it, you'll hear about it. Because I'm no joke and the ones who don't believe that, it's their loss."
Coming off his abysmal showing against Andre Ward in June, the pressure in on Allan Green to deliver. Bottom line, nobody wants to hear how the dog ate his homework anymore.
"I didn't have to say it to Allan," said DiBella, who reps both fighters in this contest. "Honestly, Allan is a very bright guy; he's self-aware and he didn't need to hear anything from anybody. He knows what's at stake and he knows that he has to rise to the moment. And also unlike the last fight, you're not hearing a lot of words out of Allan's mouth. He knows this isn't about talking; it's about performing. He says he's ready to perform and he's in a different place than he was last time. We're going to find out Saturday."
This is a bit of do-or-die situation for both Johnson and Green.
"That's why I expect it to be a very good fight because it's a huge opportunity for the winner and the loser, if it's Allan, he's got to evaluate everything. If it's Glen, he's pretty much gotta think about retiring. So everything's at stake; it's very interesting," said DiBella.
OK, call me the Korean John Kerry but I am now going with Johnson in this fight (after tabbing Green on “The Next Round” earlier this week) When I saw the “Road Warrior” before the weigh-in, I didn't see a guy who was agitated or really all that drained to make the super middleweight limit (he weighed in at 167).
And I do admit, perhaps I'm going a bit with my heart instead of my head. Johnson, to me, is a vanishing breed of gladiator in this sport. We need about a dozen more of his kind. But when it comes down to it, 80-percent of Johnson beats any version of Green, the way I look at it.
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