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Kevin Johnson: Angel in his Corner
Here's a nice article about Kevin Johnson from the Ring website:
When Kevin Johnson looks at his daughter, he thinks about options. About opportunities. About no matter how much she likes soccer, she’s going to ballet class. About how no matter how much she enjoys watching the heavyweight-title contender train, spar, and knock people down, she’s not stepping into the ring herself. About how she’s going to finish high school and four years of college, and then receive a “platinum package.” About how he had none of these choices when he was growing up.
Johnson is a big, bad man who can huff and puff with the best of them and then blow the whole house down, but his true calling isn’t in the ring. It’s as a parent, and after spending more than a year fighting to get Fatimah back in his life, he isn’t about to let her fall prey to any of the things that sidetracked him.
So, although Johnson claims to have “13 personalities,” the dominant voice is that of the single father, who is there every day with his daughter. As he climbs the ladder of championship hopefuls, seemingly stronger every fight and eager to stake his claim against the world’s best, Johnson understands that no matter how much a belt might mean to him, nothing in his life is more important than Fatimah and his mission to be the best father he can be. Even on the days when things seem too much, Johnson keeps going, never wondering how he ended up in this position.
“When you ask, ‘Why?’ God will answer you, and you don’t want to know the answer,” he said. “God always gives you what you can handle. If you try to change, you’re going to miss what he has in store for you next.”
Johnson has every reason to believe the Almighty has plenty ahead for him. Parenting is always a road with plenty of twists and turns. And given the recent success he has had in the boxing ring, it’s possible his vocation could take him to some pretty exciting places. For someone who spent time in the joint, didn’t pick up his sport of choice until he was 18 and has survived a bitter custody battle, you would imagine a nice, easy ride would be pretty appealing.
That would mean you don’t know much about Kevin Johnson.
This is a man who has come further in his life than he has in the ring, and as his 22-0-1 (9 knockouts) record might indicate, he has already made some strides as a fighter. While has climbed the heavyweight rankings, he has remained committed to Fatimah, whose mother died after an accident early this decade. Some days, it seems he needs every one of those 13 personas to handle everything he has to do, from promoting himself – and boy, can he do that – to getting ready to fight, to dealing with the demands of Fatimah, and trying to set himself up financially for life, so that he can be a hospital volunteer after his career of trying to send people to the infirmary ends.
In other words, Johnson enjoys his busy life and doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him. If you want to be a part of his team, great. If not, he has something for you, too. Big brother Brian said Johnson might be a little too patient with people, but you don’t want to be around when that patience runs out.
“Depending on what I’m dealing with, that’s what my personality is,” Kevin said. “There are some people who come after me, the haters and critics, but none of them know the real Kevin Johnson. If you’re hating me, I have hate for you. If you criticize me, I criticize you. But if you respect me, you’ll get respect.”
Like most men who spend time in jail, Johnson emerged a different person. He was humbled. He was remorseful. And he wanted to rearrange his priorities and his life. Johnson spent 18 months in jail for providing a glimpse of just what he could do with his fists. When he stepped between the ropes as a fighter, Johnson was subject to the rules of the sport. When he encountered a man in Essex County, New Jersey, one night, there were no rules, just the law.
“I got into a bad street fight and did some bad harm to a person,” he said, repentance clear in his voice.
Johnson was fighting as an amateur at the time, and when he left prison, he decided he wanted more –more as a fighter and more as a parent. The trouble was, he couldn’t find his daughter. Her mother was in a coma after the accident, and Fatimah had moved in with members of her mom’s family, who eventually gained custody after Fatimah’s mother died.
“For a while, I thought that was the best thing, because of my training and traveling,” Johnson said.
That opinion changed quickly.
“I realized no one can do it better than a child’s mother or father,” Johnson said.
Therefore, he decided to become the same man he was in the ring and take the necessary shots to get custody. If you think a few rounds in the ring can be rough, imagine what it’s like for a man just out of prison to navigate the legal system in search of a full-time job with his daughter. That’s one position a parole officer isn’t going to be accepting as gainful employment.
So, Johnson went to work. Or, rather, David Bensoussan went to work. The real estate broker befriended Johnson and put together a plan that would get him back in position to make a strong case for custody. At the time, Johnson was working in the real estate world, because amateur boxing didn’t exactly pay for groceries. Bensoussan hired an attorney and helped Johnson take the necessary steps to get Fatimah into his life full time.
“First thing we had to do was get my money right,” Johnson said. “The second thing was to get my living quarters straight. Then we had to get my career going. After that, I would get custody. Everything happened like he said it would.”
But it wasn’t easy. If you’re wondering why Johnson said he’s willing to take anything fired at him in the ring, consider the anguish he went through during the custody fight. “That took a lot out of him,” Brian said. “It cost him a lot of money, time, and energy. He put a lot of himself into that.”
As you can imagine, the opposing side highlighted his prison record. They described him as an unfit parent. Here was a father who wanted to raise his child, and people were saying he wasn’t worthy to do so. Next to that, even the most devastating right hand is nothing.
“It was a battle, especially for a guy just coming out of prison,” Johnson said. “Lies get told. But it was worth it.”
Johnson’s quest wasn’t born out of pride or a desire to covet “what was his.” He wanted to be a full-time parent, despite the incredible sacrifice that entailed. Growing up, he had been raised by his mother, a minister and grandmother – “She was my father,” he said about grandma – and learned what it took to do the job. By the time he won custody, in 2001, he knew exactly what to do and how much work it took to finish the job. All day. Every day. Single parenting is not for the weak of stomach. There are precious few breaks. Don’t feel good when you wake up? Too bad. It’s time to make breakfast. Too tired to help with homework? Drink some coffee and start those math problems. Rather watch the game than shuttle your child to practice/ballet/play dates/anything? Get off your backside and do it. Oh, and get ready for more of the same tomorrow, tough guy.
“I came from a family that showed me I can do it,” he said. “It’s embedded in me. Knowing how to raise a child is easy, although not by yourself.”
Johnson is not a perfect father. For instance he can’t cook.
“Making tea is a challenge for him,” Brian said, laughing. So, he makes sure the proper, nutritious meals find their way into Fatimah’s growing body. But he understands the value of time, whether that means letting his daughter train with him, or taking her and the other kids in the neighborhood to school – every day. And he’s always ready for homework.
“One of the most interesting sights in the world is watching him sit down with (Fatimah) and to do homework,” Brian said. “He didn’t finish school himself, so it’s almost like he’s reliving school through her.”
Johnson talks with Fatimah. He impresses the value of education on her. And he discusses those options, the better to make sure she understands that everything is available to her and that she will be expected to take it.
In no way is Johnson upset about his profession. He loves to fight and is well equipped physically and mentally to handle its rigors. He’s not on an “I want better than this for you” kick with Fatimah. Rather, he wants her to have the choice that he didn’t. He wants her to avoid the pain he went through finding his way back to her. Even if Johnson holds every championship belt available, he won’t have a title more important than “Dad.”
“He’s a very meticulous father,” Brian said. “If you look at every other aspect of his life, he’s not as meticulous. But he’s very protective and takes care of her very well.”
Not that raising a daughter isn’t a challenge, even for the toughest man. In many ways, Johnson is in alien territory. And if he thinks the first decade has been challenging, just wait until he’s living with a teenager.
“She’s just like me,” he said. “She has 13 personalities, but I can see some new ones coming as she gets older. She’s 10 going on 35.”
When Johnson decided to turn pro, in 2003, there was no jam-packed press conference and no lead story in the newspapers or Web sites. Didn’t even make the ticker. Why should it? He was a guy whose biggest success during a 14-2 amateur career was a victory in the New Jersey Golden Gloves tourney. It’s not as if he entered the ring at age 18 with fanfare either. He began boxing, because being 6-foot-3 and 150 pounds wasn’t exactly working for him with the ladies.
“Women like those tall, dark and handsome guys,” he said, laughing. “They don’t go for skinny, dark and handsome.”
Johnson developed quickly as an amateur and gained his experience in the gym by sparring with professional heavyweights and applying the lessons learned.
After losing in the national Golden Gloves tourney, Johnson was faced with a choice. He could turn professional or try out for the Olympics. The way he looked at it, if you could fight, it didn’t matter whether you were part of an Olympic team or just a corner gym. Plus, he didn’t think the sport’s political side would favor him. He wasn’t well connected, just a guy from Jersey with a helluva jab. So Johnson started fighting for money. On Feb. 13, 2003, he stopped Stanford Brisbone in the Days Inn in Allentown, Pa. It wasn’t quite Madison Square Garden, but it was a successful start.
From there, Johnson fought his way through the underbelly of the heavyweight division, staggering only once, during a four-round draw against Timor Ibragimov in just his fourth fight, in June 2004, in Laughlin, Nev. On the way to his undefeated record Johnson has shown the ability to jab well, a propensity for slipping punches and an improved capacity for closing out fights. After a string of 10 decisions in 11 fights (he knocked out Curtis Taylor in March 2007), Johnson has stopped his last three opponents. His most recent victory, over previously undefeated Devin Vargas in Atlantic City, N.J., went six of a scheduled 10 rounds and featured a battering that gave some hope that Johnson was rounding into a more complete fighter.
“He has decided that he wants to punch now,” Brian said, not too happy that his brother doesn’t mind taking some punishment while meting out his own. Johnson, of course, believes he’s becoming the total package.
“I got my speed and defense from Floyd Mayweather, my hand movement and artistic side from Roy Jones, my agility and eye-hand coordination from Muhammad Ali, and my jab and the ability to set people up from Larry Holmes,” he said.
We’ll see about that when he steps into the ring with Vitali Klitschko on Saturday. The only thing we can be certain of is Johnson’s commitment to Fatimah, who as she grows will challenge her father like only a teenager can. She’ll keep going to school, continue playing sports, discovering new avenues and making every minute of her father’s hard work worthwhile. And when she graduates from college – and she will graduate – Johnson promises that “platinum” reward.
“Ten-million dollars, a house, and a car.”
Join Date: Oct 2008
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I read that in the Ring magazine, he's gonna be very determined no doubt. However I believe he will be knocked out.
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Seems like a nice enough guy; it's a shame that Vitali will murder him.
If he was 6'3, 150 at 18, he probably should have stayed super middle or light heavy.
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Too bad for Kevin, he seems to be a humble guy...
Maybe he'll take his loss a little better than Arreola...
Rest in peace Emanuel
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Johnson is a solid, durable heavyweight, he's never been knocked down in his pro career. He's physically fit and quick for a big man.
Kevin's no pushover, Vitali has a difficult fight on his hands.
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