After a career full of frustration, Glen Johnson enjoyed a banner year in 2004. Once the victim of multiple scandalous decisions, Johnson’s career came full circle in claiming light heavyweight supremacy. In doing so, he was awarded Fighter of the Year honors by most of the major boxing publications and organizations, including the Boxing Writers Association of America.
To the victor go the spoils, right? Well, not exactly.
Despite knocking out an all-time great in Roy Jones and decisioning then-light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in a span of less than three months, Johnson remains anonymous outside of hardcore boxing circles. Even within the industry, he is still considered an underdog when potential rematches are discussed with either of the aforementioned fighters.
He is in fact the betting underdog for this weekend’s rematch with Tarver (Saturday, June 18, live on HBO from the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN). He is also forced to accept a co-feature role, as HBO does not even have Johnson’s picture listed along with their promo piece for the fight.
Perhaps it suggests HBO’s willingness to remain in the Antonio Tarver business. Tarver willingly vacated his WBC title, with the belief that a win over Johnson would lead to a lucrative contract with the network. Instead, Johnson won. But no contract offer was made to Johnson. He didn’t even receive a phone call asking him to return against anyone other than Tarver – this despite the fact that Johnson also vacated his alphabet title for the sake of appeasing the network.
Oh, did I mention that he also actually won the fight against Tarver?
None of this seems to matter to HBO. It would bother most people, but Johnson is unlike most people. Even while receiving all of the accolades and back-to-back-to-back seven figure paydays, Johnson remains grounded and humble. All that matters is climbing back into the ring.
“I’ve come to accept it. I mean, what can I say?” comments Johnson on his perceived lack of marketability. “I knew going into the fight with Tarver last year that HBO was more interested in him. Before that, I knew that they wanted Roy Jones to beat me and regain a belt, to set up a third fight with Tarver. But this is my third fight in a row on HBO, so at least I know they’re not taking it personal.”
Perhaps not, though the lack of coverage falls considerably short of what the rematch represents.
For Tarver, it’s a chance to right a wrong last December. Claims of underestimating Johnson and enjoying the fruits of success following his revenge knockout win over Jones have begun to surface. Antonio insists this time around will be different, as he dedicated more time toward training camp and preparation.
For Johnson, it’s a return to the site that made him famous – at least more so than he had ever been before.
After a potential showdown with WBO super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe fell through, Johnson sought a contingency plan. One practically fell in his lap, and far more lucrative than would have been the case had he fought Calzaghe. HBO had contacted him, asking if he would defend his IBF title against Roy Jones Jr., who was looking to rebound from the Tarver KO loss.
Johnson gladly accepted, telling anyone who would listen that an upset was in the making. Not too many listened, however; fewer were even interested. As a slight to Roy, not a single major newspaper writer bothered to attend the fight at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, the same arena that will play host to the rematch with Tarver.
It turned out to be their loss, as they missed out on what still serves as the last fight in a Hall of Fame career. It ended with Roy flat on his back, unconscious for several minutes, as Johnson took him out seconds into the ninth round after battering him throughout. Jones had barely regained consciousness before those in attendance began speculating how the result was due more to how far Roy had fallen than to how much Johnson had improved.
By now Johnson was used to the slights. It didn’t bother him, as long as he kept winning. He racked up two in a row, something he had not achieved since 2001. He was also riding a five fight unbeaten streak (3-0-2), a run he had not enjoyed ever since succumbing to Bernard Hopkins on CBS in 1997. The newfound fortune was to be celebrated, even if very few were along for the ride. Sometimes it’s better that way.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always dealt with skeptics and had very few supporters,” Johnson says. “So I thought it was funny when everyone came from everywhere after I started winning. When I knocked out Roy, I had phone calls from people claiming to be my cousin and claiming to have known me for years. It was pretty funny, though also pretty sad that people can be so conniving.”
What was equally sad was the treatment Johnson received from the IBF following his knockout over Jones. They decided that he would need to fight mandatory challenger Rico Hoye before proceeding with bigger fights. It didn’t matter to the New Jersey-based sanctioning body that Hoye was the recipient of a horrendous hometown decision over Montell Griffin. Nor did it matter that there was a far more lucrative deal on the table with WBC champ Antonio Tarver. Had they sanctioned Johnson-Tarver, the IBF would have collected ten times the sanctioning fees they would have received from a Johnson-Hoye fight.
Instead, they did what they do best – which is to make no sense. They decided to strip Johnson of the title, and instead staged a bout with Hoye and Clinton Woods, whom Johnson had bested earlier in the year to win the title. Johnson proceeded with his plans to fight Tarver, even with no titles on the line, other than the IBA and a magazine championship. All that mattered to Johnson was earning respect, and eventual light heavyweight bragging rights. That a career-high payday that came along with it didn’t hurt matters any.
“Back when the fight happened, I was upset with the IBF, but it didn’t matter as much,” insists Johnson. “It bothered me to work so hard for something, only to have it taken away so quickly. But I figured I could erase all of that by beating Antonio.”
He earned the split decision win, but worldwide recognition was still pending further review. In a span of eleven months, Johnson defeated a top ten challenger in his own hometown (Woods), an all-time great (Jones), and the reigning light-heavyweight champion ranked high on many pound-for-pound lists (Tarver). The win over Tarver was also recognized as the best light heavyweight fight of 2004. The broadcast team at HBO even suggested it was the best light heavyweight fight they had seen in years.
All of the aforementioned was enough to earn him Fighter of the Year honors, but not enough to convert the naysayers into believers. Nor was it enough to reap the benefits in and out of the ring. Award ceremonies galore were in Glen’s future. What had not surfaced was a fight. Not knowing when opportunity would again come knocking, Johnson revisited the path he traveled toward the top.
“Once it was a little bit into 2005 and no fight was on the table, I admit I was worried about where my next opportunity would come from,” recalls Johnson. “I gave up the IBF belt, and knew that it would be a long time before I would receive a title shot from them. Without help or interest from the networks, I wasn’t sure who or when I would be fighting next.”
After much back and forth, a rematch was finally made between Johnson and Tarver. It was the natural choice for both, as neither could secure a major fight against anyone else. Johnson accepted the fight, without caring what perks came with it.
Apparently, not included on the list was respect for past achievements. Johnson heads into a rematch as 2004’s Fighter of the Year and reigning light heavyweight champion against a man whom he defeated to win the crown. Despite that, most promos will have you believing the fight taking place this weekend is Antonio Tarver versus what’s his name.
Johnson may not like it, but he still accepts what is perceived as reality. One known as “The Road Warrior,” Johnson finds himself conceding home court advantage in different ways.
“Everyone believes that Tarver is more marketable than I am,” says Johnson. “Who knows? Maybe he is. But what he is not is the light heavyweight champion. What he doesn’t have is a win over me. He still won’t have one after this weekend. Maybe he’ll still have respect afterward and I will still be ignored. That’s fine. As long as they keep offering me fighters they want to market, then I’ll be fine. All I have to do is keep on winning, and I’ll keep landing TV dates that way.”
Hey, if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em.