by Shaun Brown
Callum Johnson has been through too much over the last couple of years to be concerned about who stands across from him in a boxing ring.
His father, Paul, passed away in February 2016 and with that Johnson would lose a man who he described as his “best friend” and “hero”.
Speaking, at the time, to his local newspaper the Boston Standard, Johnson said: “I felt like I could jump out of a plane without a parachute on and he would catch me.”
A father who was not only instrumental in his son’s boxing career but told Callum at just 13-years-old he would become a British champion one day.
“It was nice to finally prove my dad right.”
March 24, 2018 – the O2 Arena, London – and Johnson (17-0, 12 KOs) would deliver one of the most spectacular British performances of the year so far. The 32-year-old put his Commonwealth light heavyweight title on the line against Londoner, and British champion, Frank Buglioni. Two heavy hitting 175lb men would throw it down. Fifty-fifty, neither thought it would last the distance, Johnson with the word ‘Dad’ around his waistband….
Barely 30 seconds into the fight and a left hand from Johnson landed on Buglioni’s jaw. Body shots from Bugloni in response, another left hand from Johnson, more left hands from Johnson and the ‘Wise Guy’ sought out solace on the ropes. Onslaught, the kitchen sink… however you describe it… it was everything from Johnson and with 90 seconds left of round one, the fight was stopped. Too much artillery from the newly crowned British and Commonwealth champion.
“It wasn't an initial plan to go and do it in the first round,” Johnson told Boxing Scene.
“The plan was to hit him hard and hit him early, and then see how it went from there. We did anticipate that it could go early, and we were very confident it could go early but the plan was to go out and just be me. We knew that would be enough anyway. Whether it was the first round, the second or the last round we knew that the fight wouldn't go the distance. I knew that if I was just me that would be enough.”
And indeed, it was. Triumph. Glory. Ecstasy. That was for his father.
The inactivity, the injuries, the wasted camps… all worth it in the end.
Eight years on from winning the Gold medal at 81kg in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a champion again. A winner again. Long overdue. On the bigger stage; the lights, the camera, the action. People finally witnessed what many knew and had seen behind closed doors.
“I'm happy where I am in my career but obviously I'm not happy with how long it’s taken to get here. At the end of the day things don't always work out but we're here now and I don't want to look at the past, I want to look at the future and the positives.”
The future – with Matchroom and promoter Eddie Hearn – could well have been British title defences, a crack at the European held by Dominic Boesel. Things have taken a dramatic turn since. Any thoughts such as those in the immediate aftermath of his win against Buglioni are now gone. The next stop isn’t more domestic dust-ups, but Stateside for a colossal challenge against the IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev.
It seemed like no-one wanted to be mandatory to the fearsome Russian. A look down to number eight in the rankings and there was Callum Johnson.
“I got asked if I was interested and I said 100%. I'm ready for whatever, whenever,” said the first-time world title challenger who will go after Beterbiev in New York or Chicago on October 6 in a Matchroom USA show.
“He's a monster. At the end of the day I feel I am as well. I feel as though I've got the power to hurt anyone in the world,” said Johnson of the 33-year-old (12-0, 12 KOs) champ.
“Stylistically we'll gel well, we're both compact, we're both strong and we both don't like to take a step back. Certainly, be a great fight while it lasts. It'll be whoever lands first. It'll be that kind of fight.”
A promotional dispute, inactivity, not impressing hugely in his last fight (November 2017) against Enrico Koelling where Beterbiev won with a final round KO. The old chestnut of ‘getting him at the right time’ is thrown in. Johnson isn’t completely buying it.
“I'm not a massive believer in ring rust. I think if you can control your nerves and mentally keep yourself right you can produce it on the night in the ring. Who knows, maybe he might be dipping a little bit. Obviously, I'll be looking at the best of him and expect the best of him. If the best of him is there I'm in a very tough night but at the same time I'm very confident I can pull off the upset.”
Beterbiev once had the look of a man who had his opponents beaten before they stepped into the ring with him. Johnson hasn’t beat anyone near Beterbiev’s talent in the pros but he’s conquered his own demons, particularly since the loss of his father. A greater fight, a greater challenge that has saw him emerge from the other side with a weight off his shoulders. It doesn’t look like there’s anything in boxing that could faze Callum Johnson
“I think so, because what I've been through and what I've dealt with, in terms of the loss of my dad, the battle after that...I don't like to use the word depression… but I went through some rough times. Nothing fazes me. Stepping in the ring to fight another man doesn't worry because I've fought a lot harder demons than what I'm ever going to have to face in a boxing ring. I just enjoy it now and take it as it comes. It weren't too long ago where I thought it might be over. It's not so I'm just enjoying it.”
It's a roll of the dice against Beterbiev but at the same time a no-lose situation. “Why not?” As his promoter has reminded the media. Why shouldn’t he go for it after all the ups and downs? A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter, as is a content one and so is one like Callum Johnson. Fearless, a couldn’t care less attitude about who he is fighting and a man who has been to hell and back over the last couple of years.
“There's a lot of hard work to do but I'm ready for it.”
Shaun Brown covers British Boxing for Boxing Scene. Contact him on Twitter @sbrown2pt0