Reggie Johnson on fighting Roy Jones Jr and James Toney at their peak, and the jail term that ended his plans for a comeback

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Reggie Johnson took on a few of the greatest fighters of his period, successful belts and plaudits alongside the method. He speaks Oliver Fennell

REGGIE JOHNSON is a individuals particular person. He loves boxing. Yes, he beloved successful (doing so 44 instances in a 52-fight professional profession) and he loves his belts. But most of all, he beloved the individuals he met, particularly when fighting abroad. “A lot of fighters just go in, fight, get paid, and get out,” says Johnson of the typical method to boxing on the street. “We don’t roll like that. Every place I’ve been to, we hung out with the people.”

The Houston native, now 55, is greatest recognized for the belts he gained at middleweight and light-heavyweight, for sharing a ring with legends equivalent to Roy Jones Jnr, James Toney and Antonio Tarver, and for wins over the likes of Steve Collins, Lamar Parks, William Guthrie, Chris Johnson and Julio César González. But the man often called “Sweet” is most effusive when speaking about the individuals he met.

“Man, I love Argentina,” he says of a nation through which he went 0-3. But it’s not the sporting setbacks he remembers it for, it’s the private features.

“We went up into the mountains and hung with the poor people,” he says. “These people were like ‘he’s fighting our guy [Jorge Castro], why is he coming up here to us?’ But I loved them and by the time I left, they were my fans too.”

Johnson additionally had “six or seven” worldwide fights as an beginner, together with boxing in entrance of the king of Thailand as a 16-year-old. As a professional, he fought throughout the US, and in Spain, Italy and in South Africa in 1988 – throughout apartheid. “I was just a young man, excited about boxing. I didn’t even know what apartheid meant,” he mentioned. “Later, I did study all about it as a result of they [the sanctioning bodies] suspended me for going over there.

“I was there about a month and a half. I had a great time, despite apartheid. I was a kid, acting like the second coming of Muhammad Ali. I’d eat in restaurants and the black waiters would be calling me ‘mister’ and ‘sir’ and I’d be acting like Ali, telling them [impersonates Ali’s accent] ‘come on now, don’t be calling me mister, you older than me!’”

One place Johnson by no means fought, however is craving to go to, is the British Isles. Specifically, he’s searching for a reunion with his outdated foe, Steve Collins, whom he beat on factors in New Jersey in 1992. “Irish Steve Collins was a tough, tough fighter,” he says. “We were two hungry fighters moving forwards, trying to become [WBA] champion of the world; two guys getting a second chance. The fight was beautiful, and I’ll tell you this – if I ever go to war, I want Irish Steve Collins standing next to me.”

Nowadays, Johnson is a coach at Gator Boxing in Dickinson, Texas, and has arrange the Champions Forever Tour, which goals to collect a group of retired ex-champs – the roster to date contains Johnson, Riddick Bowe, Iran Barkley and Christy Martin – and take them round the world to fulfill followers. It is thru this that Johnson hopes to resume acquaintances with Collins. “We had everything in place a couple of years ago and were looking at coming to the UK last year, but coronavirus stopped it all,” he says. “Hopefully we can come next year. I haven’t seen Irish Steve Collins since we fought but I always think about him and would love to meet him in Ireland or the UK in front of the fans.”

Given latest tendencies, it’s essential to notice that when Johnson talks of assembly Collins once more, he means over dinner, not in the ring – though he understands why his 50-something contemporaries are lacing up the gloves once more. “It’s hard for any guy who’s financially short to say no,” he says. “If you do an exhibition and you’re making more money than guys doing real fights, if you can make $2-3million doing that, you’d be a fool not to. But also, you be a fool to do it if you’re not healthy.”

Thankfully Johnson, regardless of having fun with good well being – “I haven’t stayed in a hospital since I was born” – just isn’t tempted, even when his profession didn’t finish on his phrases.

His February 2008 win over Julio César González in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was the final time he fought, nevertheless it wasn’t meant to be a swansong – it was purported to be a comeback. “I wanted to do what George Foreman did, but at light-heavyweight,” says Johnson of his fellow Texan, who at the time was nonetheless the sport’s oldest-ever champion (Bernard Hopkins would supplant him in 2011).

González was one among the higher wins on Johnson’s document, all the extra spectacular for coming aged 41 and after a two-and-a-half-year layoff. But whereas the consequence hinted at a renaissance, the comeback got here to a sudden halt when Johnson was charged 4 months later with stealing from a charity, and then jailed in 2010.

“Now, I want to talk about that,” he says. “I’m like Ali, I’m willing to take a stand and to die for certain things. If I’d signed some papers [to confess], I would have gone home, but I wouldn’t sign those papers because I’m an innocent man.”

Johnson was convicted of taking $120,000 from Houston Area Urban League, a black empowerment charity, to run a boxing camp that by no means occurred. “I was going to do a summer programme working with kids,” he says. “There are summer season camps for basketball, baseball, soccer, soccer, and it was my concept to do a boxing summer season camp, as a result of no one had finished one.

“We talked about doing it that summer [2008] but I was getting ready to fight Glen Johnson so I said I might be tied up. If not this summer, then next summer.”

The looming Glen Johnson contest – although finally postponed – did certainly rule Reggie out of internet hosting any summer season camps, and that was when he was arrested for theft. But Johnson insists he was paid for the following summer season, which he would have honoured, not for providers he then failed to supply.

“I’ve got hard evidence that they refused to show in court,” he says. “I’ve got the [receipt for the] cheque right here. The date is on the cheque, it says October. Summertime was over. The cheque was payment in advance for next summer.”

Naturally, the 2009 camp didn’t occur both, as Johnson remained incarcerated as he awaited trial. He was convicted in October 2010, and then launched in December 2011. “I was in county jail for three years and six months,” he says. “The day I got out, I was 228lbs. I started training, but I pretty much knew boxing was over. I knew I would still be a part of it, but not participating. I just got into working with fighters.”

Johnson had lengthy since amassed a powerful resume, having fulfilled the prediction of his first coach following his very first spar.
“My uncle was an amateur fighter and he took me to the gym one day,” says Johnson. “I took off real well and before long I got into the ring, sparring. Everyone was excited watching me handle these kids with much more experience. The coach, the late James Carter, said ‘Man, you could become champion of the world.’”

It was with that purpose in thoughts that Johnson turned professional at simply 17, after shedding in the 1984 Olympic trials to Frank Tate.

The coronation envisioned by coach Carter would come at the second try, in opposition to Collins, however Johnson feels it ought to have occurred 10 months earlier in Las Vegas, in opposition to James Toney. He dropped Toney in the second spherical and pushed the middleweight supremo to the wire, however was adjudged a split-decision loser.

“I fell to the canvas when they announced that decision, and I got up with tears in my eyes,” says Johnson. “To this present day I’ll inform anybody that I gained. It made me ask myself ‘do I really want this?’ Stuff like that hurts, however it could possibly do one among two issues – make you give up, or encourage you.

“At the end of the day, I love boxing, so I wasn’t gonna quit. I saw it as an opportunity to prove people wrong.”

Johnson would go on to assert a belt in opposition to Collins and make three defences earlier than one other “political loss” in October 1993 ended his reign, with John David Jackson taking a shut however unanimous choice in Buenos Aires – the first of these three fruitless journeys to Argentina.

“It was strange, two Americans fighting in Argentina,” he says. “I later came upon he had a deal the place if he gained, he’d come again and combat the man [Jorge Castro] in Argentina. As you possibly can see, that historical past had already written itself.

“Then Jackson decided he didn’t want to fight Castro over there, so he was stripped. That’s why me and Castro fought for the title.”

Two back-to-back controversial break up choice losses to Castro precipitated a 21-month layoff whereas Johnson regrouped. When he returned, he meant to make a run at super-middleweight, however alternative knocked a division up.

William Guthrie was a new 175lbs titleholder; a huge puncher with unblemished 24-0 (21) stats being touted as a credible menace to Roy Jones Jnr. Johnson, a hitherto middleweight who’d misplaced three of his earlier 5 bouts, appeared like supreme first-defence materials.

“I was preparing to fight at 168 but then the phone rang,” says Johnson. “They called Curtis [Cokes, Johnson’s then-trainer and former world welterweight champion] and asked him if he had anyone who could fight Will Guthrie. He said Reggie Johnson, they said ‘man, get out of here, Reggie Johnson is a middleweight!’”

Even so, the combat was made for February 1998 in Uncasville, and it was the larger man, the knockout artist, who ended up unconscious. Johnson pitched a hellacious southpaw proper hook that travelled a full 180 levels through Guthrie’s chin. The terrifying fifth-round KO earned Johnson a new begin, and Guthrie a hospital go to.

“I was worried about William,” says Johnson of seeing Guthrie being stretchered out of the ring, “as a result of I don’t need to take someone’s life doing what I like to do. When the bell rings, I’m simply there to do a job, and I all the time prayed that in doing that job, not solely myself however my opponent comes out unharmed.

“But he was OK. I got a knock on my hotel door at 9.30 the next morning. It was Will Guthrie, and he said, ‘I just came by to congratulate you, and to let you know I’m all right. I’m gonna fight my way back and would love to have a rematch’.”

Instead, Johnson received the Jones Jnr match that Guthrie was beforehand being steered in direction of. Two additional victories led to a extremely anticipated battle on June 5, 1999. “Man, this guy, he was so gifted,” says Johnson of the boxer considered as the sport’s pound-for-pound leader at the time. “He was by far the best I ever fought – a master, a great fighter.”

This was evident in Jones successful each spherical in opposition to a man who, although understandably an underdog, was very extremely regarded himself. But Johnson says the one-sided scorecards had been because of getting his ways fallacious. “We’d sparred before. I caught him with a good shot and wobbled him, so I knew his chin was suspect,” he says. “So our gameplan was being aggressive, but this was fighting Roy on his own terms. One guy said to me, if I’d played chess instead of checkers, I would have had a better fight.”

Johnson would thereafter stay in rivalry till a factors defeat to Antonio Tarver in 2002. It was one other break up choice, however one he has no issues with. “Ninety percent of the time, a man knows if he won or lost. It was fair. I was even surprised it was a split decision. Some people tell me I won, but I correct them. You gotta keep it real.”

Only two extra fights remained in Johnson’s profession – each wins – earlier than his authorized troubles turned his comeback into an epilogue.

He has not been turned off charity work, although. In reality, it underpins the spirit of the Champions Forever Tour. Specifically, it goals to assist anti-bullying causes, to fund the creation and upkeep of boxing gyms in disadvantaged areas, and to offer retired fighters each a function and an earnings. And it’ll additionally give Johnson a likelihood to indulge two of his passions – travelling and assembly individuals.

“I don’t care what colour your skin is, what country you’re from, what language you speak,” he says. “I simply need to get to you, as a result of we’re all a part of the similar race – the human race.

“By bringing people together, this world tour is really going to take off and make the world a better place.”

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