Goodbye to a Gentleman and Road Warrior - Glen Johnson
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (July 20, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Glen Johnson
A look of resignation crossed Glen Johnson’s face as the scorecards were read after his 10-round bout versus Andrzej Fonfara. He was a man who knew his fate as a boxer facing his professional mortality. He didn’t need to hear the scorecards read by ring announcer Thomas Treiber; Johnson knew the truth. He lost the fight and, for all intents and purposes, his career would be coming to a close.
An honest fighter had an honest assessment of where he stood.
“At the end of the day, I felt like I didn’t win the fight so I wasn’t even listening to the scorecards. It didn’t matter what the scorecards said,” he told Maxboxing on Monday, just a few days into his retirement. To Johnson, the margins of the final scores didn’t matter. “I felt like it was going to be an ‘L,’ so what does it matter? If I lose by one point or lose by 20, I really don’t think it matters much. A loss is a loss, so that’s basically the look you see there. Just the fact I kinda realized I wasn’t going to win the fight.”

Fonfara won by the scores of 97-93 (on two cards) and 99-91 in a fight that was still up in the air going into its final stages. But Johnson, 19 years Fonfara’s senior, simply didn’t have enough in the tank to win those much needed later innings. And throughout the night, he was no longer the guy who could apply three minutes of constant, steady pressure. “Just the energy, just the pace that I used to carry, I can’t carry that pace anymore,” admitted Johnson, now 43 years old. “Every time I tried to take over the fight, I take it over for just so much and then I have to cut off intensity or cut back on intensity, I should say, and he would get back in it. So when I step on the gas before, when I was younger, I was able to step on the gas and keep it there.”
Johnson was like an automobile with 300,000 miles on the odometer. A classic car meant to be taken on Sunday drives, not for the everyday commute to work.
“Now I can only step on the gas for so long and then take it off for a little while to recover for a time,” he lamented. “These young guys, they get back in the fight, make the fight close or they pull ahead. So it’s a little bit difficult to fight these young guys.”
It wasn’t that Johnson was a “shot” fighter who could no longer be competent or safe in the ring. It’s just that this version of Glen Johnson couldn’t be Glen Johnson for as long as he used to. Like many other fighters who eventually succumbed to Father Time, he had to pick his spots. Teddy Atlas, who was ringside covering this last fight for ESPN2, opined, “He was still doing things that were right; he just can’t do enough of them. And that’s what I felt during the fight and that’s what it looked like to me, that he was still doing good things but he couldn’t do it enough. He couldn’t do it consistently throughout the rounds that he needed to, especially in the late rounds.”
When the fight ended, Johnson announced his retirement as he was being interviewed by Atlas and his broadcast partner, Joe Tessitore.
“I knew that before the fight happened, that if I lose this fight, I wasn’t going to go on further because I said this guy is not at the level that normally, if I was going to lose to somebody, I would lose to,” said Johnson who, coming into last week, had dropped consecutive fights to Lucian Bute and Carl Froch. Before a victory over Allan Green in Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, Johnson also dropped a decision to Tavoris Cloud. “Normally, I would lose to a world champion or somebody that has the potential to be a world champion that are as good as me or have a similar name or had the career I had. Not some guy who’s trying to get established in the business.”
Fonfara is a much improved boxer but there was a time- not too long ago- when Johnson would handle a guy of this caliber.
“So I figured if I wasn’t at the same level as a guy trying to establish themselves in boxing, if I’m back there, then that’s basically letting me know I’m on my way out,” said Johnson, who finished his career with a record of 51-17-2 (35). In many ways, he is the last of a vanishing breed of boxer, one who learned the hard way and traveled more than a Harlem Globetrotter. Just think about it; how many fighters nowadays will even have 70 pro bouts to their credit when they finish up their careers?
“He’s a guy that is a throwback,” said an admiring Atlas, “because he went and fought everybody. He didn’t have an erstwhile promoter in those times. He didn’t have a gold medal. He didn’t have somebody behind him. He didn’t have any of those things to make it a little easier and so he took a lot of fights he didn’t want to take or were not always advantageous for his career but he took them and he won a lot of them and he didn’t get the decision in other people’s backyard. But in the meantime, while he was doing that, like the old-time fighters that would fight everybody, like an Archie Moore. And I know that’s a big difference; he had 300 fights but still, the attitude is the same. The mentality is the same. They fought everybody because they needed to be fighting. They needed to show they were at that level and the rest would take care of itself.”
Many fighters today are nurtured carefully and protected in many ways. A guy like Johnson went through a constant trial by fire. According to Atlas, that made him very much like the legendary “Mongoose.”
“They needed to show they were at that level and the rest would take care of itself. They learned their trade and they could fit into any kind of fight. It’s the same thing with Glen Johnson; he had the attitude of a fighter. He needed to take these fights because of his circumstances. He fought everybody, where somebody else that had options wouldn’t do that, wouldn’t have fought some of these guys. They would’ve taken an easier path, a different path. But it would not have been a path that developed him into the type of fighter Glen got developed into,” said Atlas, who described Johnson ultimately as a “solid, dependable professional that knew how to fight.”
Ironically enough, Johnson was a fighter who was built up early on with a steady diet of soft opposition in South Florida. He was 32-0 going into his first title shot in 1997 against IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. He was promptly beat down by “The Executioner” over 11 rounds but it was at this time when his career- which afterward, went into various tailspins- really began.
“I learned a lot from that fight; that fight was the moment that I realized I needed to go back to the gym and learn a lot of things,” Johnson says, looking back. “When you’re undefeated, you think you know everything and when you think you’re never going to get beat. But once you get beat- and I got beat decisively; there’s no question about it or any doubt I got shut out- so that kinda sent me to say, ‘OK, you’ve got a lot to learn. Go back to the gym and really pay attention to learning.’ And that’s what it did for me.”
Naturally, that revelation didn’t lead to immediate success (as was chronicled in my column last week, In fact, he went through not one but two four-fight losing skids in the subsequent years since the Hopkins loss. It’s in circumstances like this where boxers quit the business or the business quits on them. But Johnson forged on. The question is, just how?
“Just the determination to make it,” he explained, simply. “I really wanted to make it and I was told I wasn’t going to make it. I didn’t want to prove anybody right. I wanted to prove myself right, that I could make it, so just that determination to push ahead.” It was at this state where Johnson gained his “Road Warrior” moniker because “Have gloves, will travel” became his motto. The native of Jamaica, who settled down in Miami, Florida, never imagined that this game would take him to all corners of the world. “I just wanted to fight and see if I could make a couple of bucks and then it just took off. Once it took off, it kept going.”
He finally reached the promised land in 2004, as he won the IBF light heavyweight title by defeating Clinton Woods in his hometown of Sheffield. Having the belt made him an ideal opponent for Roy Jones (who was coming off his knockout loss to Antonio Tarver) and he promptly stopped “R.J.” in nine rounds with constant, swarming pressure. Johnson capped off this magical year by defeating Tarver in Los Angeles for all the marbles in the light heavyweight division. For his efforts, he was named the “Fighter of the Year.”
“‘04 was a historic year for me,” he said. “That’s when I did all the great things and really thought I would do the same thing in ’05 and ’06. I was looking forward to at least a good solid, two, three [fight] run but it didn’t work out that way.” Johnson dropped the rematch to Tarver and soon, he was back traveling the backroads of boxing, far away from the bright lights and huge license fees of HBO and Showtime. Johnson was never a fighter who could game the system like some of his other colleagues. Simply put, he wasn’t glamorous or sexy enough for the powers-that-be who dole out such opportunities. His record not glossy enough and if there was ever a guy who needed the oversized influence of an Al Haymon, it was this guy. But through it all, Johnson stuck around with quiet dignity.
When asked to share his most disappointing memory, he thinks for a few seconds and answers, “I think probably my worst moment was my first loss to Chad Dawson (in April of 2008, in a fight many think Johnson deserved to win). I just really felt a little disgust in my craw with that one but my worst loss was against Silvio Branco in Italy [in April of 2000]. But the Chad Dawson loss was the one that I really kinda felt like they were trying to push me out of boxing and they wanted the American kid. That really hurt me because I felt like I invested so much in this business. It hurt to see that they were trying to push me out.”
Johnson leaves this sport satisfied that he got everything out of his natural God-given ability and emptied the bucket. “I think so; I think I milked it for all I could. I don’t think I made as much money as I could make because of how the system worked. I made what I made.” As for what he does in the next chapter of his life, he says, “We have a few things in mind probably; do some training and probably [open] a restaurant or something like that but we’ll see though.”
And don’t expect Johnson to suddenly get lazy and fat in retirement.
“I can’t do that; I still gotta watch my figure,” he said, laughing. “I still gotta go to the gym; I still gotta train every day. I still gotta pay attention to what I eat because I want to fit into the clothes I got now.”
Some things will never change. Glen Johnson will always be a fighter.
“I’ll be fine because I still have me.”
I was more than just a bit stunned when, during the HBO broadcast last weekend, the ringside broadcast team spoke of the passing of Paul Hogatt prior to Danny Garcia’s upset of Amir Khan. Now, most of you reading this probably have never heard of him before Jim Lampley brought him up but for over three decades, he was the reason why you heard the likes of Lampley and Larry Merchant so clearly on their broadcasts as Hogatt was responsible for setting up and coordinating the audio on HBO. He and Tami Cotel have been described as the heart and soul of the HBO production team.
I first met Paul waaaaay back in 1996 when I first got into this boxing racket, as I had dinner with Harold Lederman at the host hotel for the bout between Marco Antonio Barrera and Jesse Magana at the Great Western Forum. From the very beginning, Paul was a very nice guy and incredibly friendly. And throughout the years, he would always be as amiable and as gracious to me as when I first met him.
Paul was known as a true pro, one who was reliable and highly competent. I’ll always remember him as a good person with a passion for his craft. He will be missed by all those he met. Rest in peace, Paul.
It’s interesting that NBC has brought up the possibility of extending the breaks between rounds by seven seconds to accommodate advertising. Honestly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this suggestion. And while some purists may cringe at such a thought, the reality is that many other sports have added breaks in the action and time-outs, all in the name of sponsors.
Honestly, if this leads to boxing being on larger platforms (like NBC), I really don’t see this as the apocalypse but a necessity of progress. Boxing will survive seven more seconds in between rounds (hey, more time for ring card girls to roam!) just like it survived not having rosin on the canvas, the banishment of 15-round title fights and gloves with attached thumbs.
The September 29th “Boxing After Dark” on HBO was officially announced today. The card will feature Edwin Rodriguez vs. Jason Escalera, Lou Del Valle vs. Vic Darchinyan and Zsolt Erdei vs. Isaac Chilemba...The last edition of “Real Sports” on HBO was very good all the way around...OK, I went out and bought the new album from Nas; let’s see if he still has it...Word is that Curtis Jackson A.K.A. “50 Cent” has gotten a promoter’s license in New York...Yeah, Antawn Jamison has some miles on him (a lot, actually) but, coming off the bench, he can still score buckets. Nice pick-up for the Purple and Gold...The loss of Ray Ray Armstrong for the Miami Hurricanes would be significant if he was even as good a safety as James Lewis, Terris Harris or Casey Greer. Folks, it’s not like Miami dismissed Sean Taylor or Bennie Blades here...

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