The Amazing, Up and Down Career of Glen Johnson
Glen Johnson’s story is unique, similar to The Cinderella Man. A career of early promise fizzled badly only to be salvaged late against great odds. Johnson’s ascent to the heights of the sport is atypical, and something people can get behind. He came up the hard way, never seemed to get any help from the judges, and was seemingly always in his opponents’ hometown. Yet he persevered.
He moved to south Florida from Jamaica at 15. It would still be several years before he took up his first amateur bout. Beginning at 20, he amassed a 35-5 record, winning two Florida Golden Gloves titles in the process.
Turning pro in 1993, Johnson established himself as a prospect. He sprinted out to a sparkling 32-0 record fighting as a middleweight. While there were no standouts on his ledger, Johnson managed to secure a high ranking. In four-and-a-half years, he was ready to challenge for his first title.
Johnson challenged Bernard Hopkins for his middleweight title in ’97, losing every round en route to an 11th round TKO defeat. No shame in that. It would be the first and last time Johnson would be stopped. Johnson was not nearly seasoned enough to compete with the masterful champion. But there was hope that Johnson would be able to build from this experience.
Unfortunately, the defeat to Hopkins began a fall from grace for the “road warrior.” Beginning with the Hopkins bout, Johnson would go an incredible 6-9-1 over the next six years. He fought some tough fighters, often in their hometown. While some decisions could have gone his way, this was unquestionably a very difficult period for Johnson.
After losing to Merqui Sosa, Joseph Kiwanuka, Sven Ottke, Syd Vanderpool, Silvio Branco, Omar Sheika, Derrick Harmon, Julio Gonzalez and drawing with Daniel Judah, Johnson was well written off.
Turning It Around
In mid-2003, Johnson began to show good form. He decisioned high-rated Eric Harding, which positioned him for a shot at the vacant IBF Light Heavyweight Championship against Clinton Woods. Not called the “road warrior” for nothing, he once again traveled to his opponents’ hometown of Sheffield, England. The bout was scored a draw, and as is often the case when the hometown fighter gets a draw, the decision was highly debatable.
Johnson was given an immediate rematch again in Sheffield. This time, the judges could not deny Johnson as he won a unanimous decision. Glen was the new IBF champion! It was a triumph of the human spirit. Where many fighters in Johnson’s position fade into obscurity, he managed to reverse the inertia and was now a world champion.
2004 Fighter Of The Year
Johnson began the year with his win over Woods and was then chosen as Roy Jones’s next opponent. Jones, coming off the Tarver KO loss, was still a prohibitive favorite. In his signature performance, Johnson knocked Jones unconscious with a single right hand in the ninth round. It was no fluke as Johnson was ahead on the cards up to that point. It was a shocking performance, and put Johnson right at the top of the division.
But before he could become the real light heavyweight champion, he would need to beat Antonio Tarver. In December, that’s just what he did, earning a split decision over the champion. Johnson was now undisputed light heavyweight champion and the Ring Fighter of the Year. You would be hard pressed to find another fighter of the year who had sunk to the depths that Johnson once did. What a turnaround!
Back Down To Earth
6 months later, Johnson would lose his title back to Tarver via close unanimous decision. He would also lose his rubber match to Clinton Woods, another debatable loss in England. He came back to beat former champion Montell Griffin, and positioned himself for a fight with new champion Chad Dawson.
Chad Dawson I and II
In April 2008, Johnson stepped into the ring against undefeated WBC Champion Chad Dawson. It was a close fight, with Dawson using his length and skills to outbox Johnson, while Johnson was landing the harder punches. Johnson seemed to win more rounds, while Glen appeared to outfight Dawson. The image of a 40 year-old man pushing his 25 year-old opponent to the limit and Dawson being so relieved to hear the final bell left many thinking Johnson had done enough to win. Either way, the 116-112 scorecards seemed a bit kind to the defending champion.
Johnson left the ring with his reputation intact. Following 2 more wins, he secured the rematch. This time, Dawson appeared to have an easier time with Johnson, outboxing him over long stretches of the bout. Johnson managed to do some good work in the latter rounds as Dawson became a bit more ragged. The two-point win on two cards seemed a bit flattering to Johnson, especially when compared to the scores in their first fight, an undeniably closer affair.
Johnson goes into 2010 with something to prove. If he wants to remain near or at the top of the division, he will need to score a meaningful win. It’s difficult to lock Johnson into our normal perceptions of the game. His career has shown that you can’t be too quick to write him off. Nevertheless, he will be 41 when he next laces them up, and is only 7-4 in his last 11 bouts.