This past weekend Glencoffe Johnson, Ivan Hernandez, and Dario Esalas went into fights as heavy underdogs but didn’t seem to let that bother them at all. They all won fights that most people thought they were in as ‘opponents’ only. But as Roy Jones Jr., Mark Johnson and Terrance Cauthen all found out, that is why they fight the fights in the ring and not on paper. Entering his fight with Roy Jones Jr., Glencoffe Johnson was seen by everyone as being chosen only because he brought the IBF Light Heavyweight title belt with him, and that he would be leaving the fight without it. Apparently Mr. Johnson had other plans. Instead, Johnson took the fight to Jones from the opening bell and disposed of a fighter who had been on top of many Pound-for-Pound lists for years.
While Johnson was never anybody’s whipping boy, he had been seen as a fighter fortunate to hold a title in a division that was deep in players but shallow in talent. Entering the fight with 9 losses, Johnson didn’t possess the resume of a fighter of championship caliber. In the end what was on paper didn’t matter.
Mark ‘Too Sharp’ Johnson was once one of the best fighters in the lower weight divisions and by the time he entered the ring last Saturday had re-established himself as one of the lighter fighters to fear. Heading into his fight with Ivan Hernandez, Johnson was 44-3-0 and was a 5-to-1 betting favorite facing an untested, unknown 21-year old kid.
Hernandez had a nice 18-0-0 record, but had only faced two opponents who brought a winning record and half a chance to win into the ring. He was a 21-yeard old, inexperienced kid facing a champion of 47 fights. While Hernandez had a career of 18 professional fights, Johnson was appearing in his 15th championship bout. Experience counts, but the kid won.
Finally, Terrance ‘The Heat’ Cauthen had the heat brought to him as Dario Esalas dropped Cauthen in the sixth round on his way to a split decision over 8 rounds. Cauthen had been on a 5-year winning streak and was merely staying active as he put his NABF Light Welterweight title aside and fought Esalas in a non-title bout. Still, non-title bouts are fights that serve a purpose—Esalas served up an upset.
The prospect of being merely an ‘opponent’ in a fight and not being given a chance to have your arm raised at the end of a bout is a scary concept. In any other sport where an opponent may be outclassed he usually can leave the event physically unscathed. In boxing being an ‘opponent’ means you are expected to get physically beaten up and absorb punishment for as long as you are willing to stay around for it.
What this reality does, is create an environment where the underdog has the option to “go for it” and give it his best shot. Great things can happen to a man who has nothing to lose, yet everything to gain. The best case is pulling up a major upset, second is to lose with dignity and go down with all guns blazing, and the worst case is getting snot-rocked for three minutes at a time, which is supposed to happen anyway.
Not long ago HBO closed out an otherwise forgettable fight broadcast with Larry Merchant noting that while most times the network tried to bring its viewers competitive fights, on that night that had brought us “crap.” On paper the fights this past weekend didn’t look like much. Roy Jones Jr. was perceived to be in a class above Glencoffe Johnson, while Mark Johnson was supposed to roll over unproven Ivan Hernandez. It had looked like Merchant might be delivering another somber closing statement, but in the end we were all pleasantly surprised, if not a little shocked.
The next time you see a bout that looks like a blowout on paper, remember that the dog in the fight might have plans of his own. That’s why they fight the fight.