Former WBA junior welterweight champion “Vicious” Vivian Harris of Brooklyn, New York, via Georgetown, Guyana, has been around long enough to know that he will have his hands full on Saturday night, July 29, against two-time WBC lightweight champion Stevie “Little But Bad” Johnston.
The two veterans will be squaring off in the main event of an HBO “Boxing After Dark” show at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California.
The co-featured main event pits top-five contender Joshua Clottey, 28-1 (18 KOS), against undefeated Richard Gutierrez, 19-0 (12 KOS), who are battling for the IBF international welterweight title. Gary Shaw is promoting.
Although Harris, who was originally scheduled to fight undefeated prospect “Mighty” Mike Arnaoutis until Arnaoutis incurred an injury in training, is only 28 and Johnson is 33, it seems that they have both been on the scene a lot longer than their ages would indicate.
The winner of this fight should become a major player in the red-hot junior welterweight division, while the loser will most likely be cast professionally adrift.
“This fight means everything to Vivian,” said Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym where Harris has trained for his entire professional career. “If he loses, it is going to be tough for him to climb back into contention.”
“This fight means a lot to me because it’s on national television and I need to be seen again,” said Johnston. “It’s a good fight for my career.”
It is actually a great fight for both of their careers, because they are each talented and respectable enough for a victory to have much significance. In October 2002, Harris’s future looked especially golden after he sensationally stopped Diosbelys Hurtado in two rounds to win his world title.
He foolishly turned down high purse offers to fight Ricky Hatton in England, and instead opted to defend his title against previously undefeated Souleymane M’baye in Las Vegas and twice against Oktay Urkal, a Germany-based Turk in Urkal’s adopted country.
Because those fights were not televised in the United States, whatever momentum Harris garnered from the Hurtado fight, which had been televised on HBO, was lost.
He wound up taking short money to defend against the awkwardly effective Carlos Maussa on the televised pay-per-view undercard of Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Arturo Gatti in Atlantic City in June 2005.
Expecting to look good on such a high profile show, he trained with the esteemed Emanuel Steward for that fight. Instead of impressing anyone, he looked listless and after absorbing a beating was shockingly stopped in seven rounds. Gone was the title he had worked so hard to attain.
There are varying thoughts on just what happened against Maussa. Steward said that Harris was a bundle of nerves on the eve of the fight and had trouble sleeping. He wasn’t afraid of Maussa, believed Steward, he was just overwhelmed by the enormity of fighting on a Gatti show in Atlantic City where the scrutiny and surrounding hoopla was so intense.
Silverglade feels that as talented a boxer as Harris is, his biggest problem is a lack of self-confidence. The fight game is just as much of a mental game as it is a physical one, and Silverglade believes that Harris played enough mind games with himself to sabotage his efforts against a fighter that he should have beaten handily.
By trying to look sensational rather than just trying to win, he says that Harris forgot one of boxing’s golden rules. He hopes that for Harris’s sake, he has no such inclinations against a fighter as difficult as Johnston.
“The bottom line is that no matter what happens in the fight, the most important thing is leaving the ring with a W,” said Silverglade. “Against an awkward guy like Maussa, it’s always going to be hard to look good. Vivian is an extremely talented fighter. He is also very intelligent. Maybe that intelligence hurt him, because he was thinking more than he was fighting.”
Ed Post, the principal owner of Spartan sports apparel and boxing equipment, is a longtime friend of Harris’s and can’t say enough good things about him. Harris was there for Post when Post’s mother had a stroke, and he was there for the past several months as Post battled throat cancer.
He doesn’t buy all the psychobabble and believes that if Harris is his own worst enemy, it is only because loves to train so much.
“You have to drag him out of the gym,” said Post. “He’d be there seven days a week, working with the best sparring partners he could find, if people let him. Vivian is full of confidence, he is one of the most confident and comfortable fighters I’ve ever seen.
“The reason he lost to Maussa is simple,” he continued. “He overtrained. I saw him a few days before the fight and he told me he just ran six miles on the beach. I told him he was crazy, that he should be resting, that the hard work was done. He told me he felt good and wanted to take advantage of how good he felt.”
Although Johnston is not a big puncher, he is pesky and savvy enough to give anybody fits. He has beaten a slew of championship caliber fighters and top contenders, including Sharmba Mitchell, Jean Baptiste Mendy, Saul Duran, Cesar Bazan, James Page, Alejandro Gonzalez, and Angel Manfredy.
He even fought Jose Luis Castillo to a controversial draw that most people thought he won. A native of Denver, Colorado, who now lives and trains in Vero Beach, Florida, Johnson has won four straight fights after being out of action for more than two years for a variety of reasons that included injuries sustained in a car accident and some legal troubles.
Harris has fought only once since losing to Maussa. He won a lopsided decision over Marteze Logan in Temecula, California, in January 2006.
“I hope that this is the beginning of a second title reign for Vivian,” said Post. “He is a great fighter and one of the finest men I’ve ever met. He has worked very hard to get where he is. The Maussa fight was a fluke. We haven’t seen the best of Vivian yet. The best is yet to come.”