English light-heavyweight dangerman Callum Johnson is waiting in the wings, hoping to meet the winner of this weekend’s vacant WBO title fight between Joe Smith and Maxim Vlasov.
They collide in Tulsa [today/Saturday] two weeks before Johnson returns to the ring in a 10-rounder against Croat Emil Markic.
Johnson is hoping Smith gets by Vlasov, although he wants to face the winner regardless.
“That fight [Smith] was put to me a couple of years ago, I accepted it and it was going to be in New York but nothing ever materialised, but I do feel it’s an exciting fight for everybody involved,” said Johnson. “He’s fighting for the world title and if he comes through that, that’s a dream fight for me because he’ll have the belt, it’s an exciting fight and it gives me an opportunity.”
Callum is not looking beyond Markic, though. Johnson is 18-1 but he’s suffered long and frustrating spells of inactivity throughout his career. The fact he’s not boxed for more than two years since stopping Seanie Monaghan in three rounds is not unusual for Johnson.
“I’ve got to worry about my fight first and coming through that and performing,” he admitted. “I’ve got to perform at the end of the day. It’s all right saying there’s no pressure but there is, I’ve got to make people say ‘Wow, it doesn’t look like he’s been away.’ I’ve got to be exciting again.”
He will be watching Smith-Vlasov this weekend with interest.
“I’m a fan of Joe Smith as well,” Johnson continued. “I quite like him as a fighter, I like him as a person, I like his story… It’s been spoken about before and it excited me then because it was mentioned about being at MSG but if he’s a world champion and I can get that fight, how good would that be? It’s not personal, like I want to fight Joe Smith – I’m actually a fan of Joe Smith. His fight with Vlasov is no easy task. I’ve not seen that much of Vlasov. I’ve seen clips and Joe hasn’t got an easy fight. It seems like he’s the favourite but we’ve seen favourites get beat before but I’d like him to win, but if Vlasov won and I got a shot at him obviously I’d take that as well – but for some reason me and Joe Smith just excites me.”
For now, Johnson is just pleased to be back.
He’s hoping there’s one last push in his stop-start career. He’s recently resigned with his first promoter, Frank Warren, departing Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable, and he’s wanting regular work.
“It’s a bit surreal to be honest,” he said of having a date to train for and fighting Markic on April 24. “I’m thinking, ‘Geez, it’s actually happening for me again. I’m excited. I can’t wait.’”
He admits he’s not done a great deal of homework on the Croatian but trainer Joe Gallagher will have him well prepared.
“I don’t know a massive amount [about Markic],” he added. “I know he’s got a decent record, he’s 32-2 with 24 knockouts so it suggests he can punch a bit as well. I believe he was a decent amateur and he’s won a few titles so I’m going to have to perform because it’s not an easy fight. I’ve been out of the ring for a couple of years but I’ve not been out of the gym so I think it will be okay but until the night we’re not going to know, are we? I feel like I will be okay. I feel like I’ve done enough in the gym. I’ve never been out of the gym and I think it’s about keeping your cool on the night and not letting the night get to you. I think sometimes people think too much about it because at the end of the day, if you’re doing it in sparring you should be able to do it in the ring if you keep your cool under pressure. That’s what I plan on doing.”
What does he want moving forwards? Activity or big fights?
“Both to be honest,” Johnson said, having craved both for years. “I want activity but I want the fights to be meaningful, that’s why we’ve come back in a 10-round fight against a decent opponent because I thought what’s the point coming back in a six or eight rounder to shake that ring rust off, I’m passed all that. I haven’t got all that long left and I don’t need to be wasting time with six or eight rounders so I thought let’s just go for it and see what happens.”
While he knows time is not on his side, the man who’s lost just once in his career – to Artur Beterbiev – says his goal remains the same. Johnson was a touted amateur of whom big things were expected when he turned pro. He’s still waiting for those big things.
“It’s the same as it’s always been,” he said of his ambition. “I’d love to be a world champion. That’s my aim. I want to get that world title shot again and hopefully win it but that’s it. It’s always been that. It’s no secret my career’s not gone how everybody thought it might, especially how I thought it was going to go, but I still do feel given the opportunity I’ve still got it in me to do it, to finish it off with that dream ending.”