Johnson attended Wednesday’s promotional event at the John A. Wilson building, which houses D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and their support staffs.
“I remember when I fought over at the D.C. Armory when Lamont and Anthony were there. They were about 10 or 12, and I fought Arthur Johnson. I told them that this is the stage and the platform that you’re going to one day be on. I told them to embrace it now, because it’s coming,” said Johnson, now a specialist working with at-risk youth.
“I said something to them about it yesterday. I reminded them of that conversation we had. It’s a golden opportunity to bring boxing back. It’s a golden opportunity for Lamont. It’s a golden opportunity for everybody to come out and support. If the show does well, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
A slick boxer-puncher, Johnson was ranked as high as No. 3 in the sport’s pound-for-pound ratings, retiring after his second straight loss in February of 2006 after falling by eighth-round knockout to current WBC featherweight titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez, who has knocked out 11 consecutive opponents in as many straight wins since last losing in May of 2009.
If Johnson’s resume was largely devoid of star names, it was because standout fighters of the day, from 108 to 115 pounds, such as Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero, Michael Carbajal and Ricardo Lopez are widely considered to have avoided him.
Despite being one of the sport’s all-time under-exposed, under-appreciated and underpaid fighters, Johnson earned three title belts over the course of two divisions, and retired as the first African American to win a 112-pound title belt.
Thanks to his dazzling speed, his uncommon punching power for his size and an uncanny yet accurate delivery of his blows from an array of angles, Johnson dethroned IBF titleholder Francisco Tejedor by first-round knockout in May of 1996 to become boxing’s first black flyweight titleholder.
Johnson defended that crown seven times until April 1999, when he rose to win the IBF’s junior bantamweight crown with a unanimous decision over Ratanachai Sor Vorapin at Washington, D.C.’s MCI Center, which is now the Verizon Center.
Johnson also owns a signature victory over former three-division titleholder Fernando Montiel, of Mexico, who was 27-0-1, with 21 knockouts, before Johnson defeated him for the WBO junior bantamweight crown by majority decision in August of 2003.
The win over Montiel helped Johnson to rebound from consecutive losses to a young Rafael Marquez, by split-decision and eighth-round knockout, respectively, in October of 2001 and February of 2002.
“I was the first fighter to fight at the Verizon Center. I was the first African flyweight champion and the first African American [junior bantamweight] champion,” said Johnson. “That tells you a lot about my work ethic. You have guys that get five and six title shots and they don’t win it, but I did it.”
Does Johnson have a predicition for Saturday night’s fight?
“I predict that it will be a very good chess match early on, and I believe that Lamont has the boxing skills. He has the reach where he can give Amir Khan a lot of problems from round one. I think that Lamont has to make Amir Khan respect him from round one,” said Johnson.
“If he makes Amir Khan respect him from round one, then we will have a good fight. But if Lamont don’t make Amir Khan respect him, then he may be a little reckless. Most importantly, this is a dream come true for guys like Lamont and for guys like me.”
Photo by fightwire images
Photo by Delane Rouse, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org