When the fire in a fighter’s belly burns out, and all that’s is left is the desire to douse that flicking flame with food, it’s time to call it a night.
Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson has been an excellent fighter for the better part of his 16-year professional career. He has been half of the equation in many of the better bouts below 118-pounds, but now his battle against the pounds and the taxation of a 50-fight career have taken their toll. The 44-5-0 (28 KOs) Johnson seemed to recognize that the fight game had caught up with him this past weekend when “Too Sharp” had to go to the well one more time and found it had run dry.
Things took a bad turn at the weigh-in when Johnson, who held IBF titles at Flyweight and Super Flyweight as well as the WBO 118-pound belt, tipped the scales at 119½ pounds for his scheduled Bantamweight title bout. According to Johnson’s father/trainer/manager Abraham, whom I had the pleasure to speak with on fight night, his son had spent 30 minutes in the sauna in a rubber suit and came back a second time still weighing 119½ . When Johnson’s team asked for an explanation from the Nevada State Athletic Commission how that could be, the only answer was that the location of the scale had been changed. Frustrated and feeling the deck was stacked in favor of his opponent, Johnson forfeited part of his purse and the fight went off as a non-title affair.
The messenger on Saturday night in Las Vegas was Jhonny Gonzalez, who took advantage of the former World Champion who hadn’t fought since September of 2004 when he was dropped twice and stopped in eight rounds by Ivan Hernandez. Despite his opponent’s long layoff Gonzalez didn’t jump on Johnson, but after the typical “feeling out” rounds in the early going, Gonzalez began to find his range and dropped the 34-year-old Johnson with barrage in the fourth.
That attack in the previous round seemed to rile the veteran and brought out his best moments of the night in the fifth as he showed the skill that made him one of the top pound-for-pound fighters at one time. In that round Johnson utilized his jab, fired combinations and rolled with the punches that came his way. It was a glimmer of the fighter he had been and gave a moment of a hope. But age and attrition made for an uphill battle that “Too Sharp” couldn’t overcome as Gonzalez, 32-4 (28 KOs), took over the bout before the end of the sixth as he maintained the distance to pepper his opponent and cut off the ring.
The end of the night, and perhaps the boxing career of Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, came in the eighth as Gonzalez had taken the legs from his physically and emotionally drained opponent. A hard combination highlighted by a ripping hook to the body and punctuated with a hook to the temple sent Mark to the canvas for the final time. As referee Kenny Bayliss reached the 10-count Johnson remained on all fours.
In those moments on Saturday night, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was put to the test by a young, hungry fighter, the kind of boxer Johnson himself used to be. Only an older boxer himself can truly determine when his time has come despite the insistence of others that he may be done.
There was no debate that Johnson’s best days had past him by, but he was still hoping to be a major player in the lighter divisions and needed to find out for himself when it was time to go home. That time came in the eighth round Saturday night in Las Vegas when the alarm bell rang for Mark to get up and he no longer wanted to, or could.
Now he knows.
Note: Abraham Johnson indicated that he and his son would likely train and manage fighters from this point on, and leave the ring battles for those more fit to fight them. While there has been no announcement as to the official retirement plans from the sport by Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, it certainly seems to be the direction he is headed.
Also, it was an amusing trend this past weekend that regardless of the promoter or trainer I spoke to – from Johnson to Jack Mosley and on – each and every one of them wanted to talk about the young heavyweight prospect they had in their stable. Financially the big men still rule the business of boxing and if the division’s savior still has yet to be uncovered, it certainly isn’t for lack of trying. Despite all the great bouts we have seen in the lower weight divisions, everyone wants a financial piece of the next heavyweight champion.
And everyone thinks they might have him.