IF you could die based on the number of bitter pills you swallow in life, Callum Johnson must be coming close to overdosing.
The heavy-hitting light heavyweight should have been fighting Joe Smith in upstate New York this weekend but two days before he was due to leave the UK, he tested positive for Covid.
The Boston puncher was a voluntary challenger for Smith, so another shot is far from promised and the show wasn’t postponed, Top Rank instead drafted in Steve Geffrard a late replacement to take Johnson’s place.
Last Tuesday, Callum had a headache and sniffles in his nose and thought he had a cold. His nose was a little blocked on the Wednesday, though the headache was gone, and he needed to test for Covid anyway, so he did. It came back positive. He did another one and that came back positive as well and his heart sank.
“I was never planning on getting the vaccine,” Johnson explained. “I’m not an anti-vaxxer, obviously, or I wouldn’t have had it but I thought if I ever needed to have it – like I did need to have it [to travel] – I’d have got it. But I was never planning on getting it but I got the jabs [so he could fight Smith in the USA] and two weeks later I ended up getting Covid. I had Covid a year ago as well. Similar symptoms apart from the first time I actually lost my smell, this time I haven’t.”
Johnson isolated and has since been back in the gym but he won’t watch the Smith fight live on Saturday night.
“I don’t think I will,” he said. “Not for any other reason but it’s early hours and I never watch fights anyway too much. Obviously I’ll watch it the next day or whatever but I’ll not stay up and watch it live, I’ll watch it in the morning.”
What does he think of his replacement Geffrard?
“I’ve watched a couple of his fights on YouTube and had a quick look and he doesn’t look a bad fighter. I’ve heard he was a good amateur but I think Joe will probably stop him mid-rounds.”
If Johnson didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any. His career has been blighted by setbacks, politics and inactivity. He hit his lowest when his father and inspiration passed away but he felt sure his luck had finally changed when promoter Frank Warren got him the Smith fight at the end of 2021. Smith was the fight he’d always coveted.
“I know it is easy for me [to say] but I just can’t see a scenario where Joe Smith beats me,” Johnson continued. “Okay, he can punch very hard and he’s strong and he’s tough and all that but I just watch him and think, ‘You’re made for me, you are.’ Hopefully we can get it again. Frank said he’s going to try and get it. [Trainer] Joe [Gallagher] seems positive we might get it again. Joe Smith had to pull out of a fight with Covid himself, so he knows how it feels, he’s been there. He obviously fancies the fight and fancies the job himself because, let’s be honest, he’d have never given me this shot if he never fancied it.”
Johnson admitted that the aftermath of his positive Covid test result in a psychological dump but as a few days have gone by, he’s picked up and is feeling more optimistic. He’s looked at the bigger picture, and his position in it.
“I just think to myself, I keep telling myself and it’s what kind of keeps me going, I can’t put in what I’ve put in through my life and be as talented as I am and be as good as I’ve been and know what I can do and not get it,” he said, of his second proposed crack at a world title after he lost a four-round shootout with Artur Beterbiev in 2018. “I just think it’s got to come for me at some point. But at the same time, I’m 36 now and time is running out. It’s as simple as that. I can’t just dress it up. Time waits for nobody but I’ve looked at [Floyd] Mayweather who was 36 when he beat Canelo. I think Manny Pacquiao was 40 years old. Gennady Golovkin is 39. And then you look at Bernard Hopkins still doing it at 47. And I’ve not had loads of fights and I’ve not even done loads of sparring over the years because of all the different time I’ve been out of the sport or had setbacks, so I’ve not got loads of miles on the clock in that sense but the miles are there from training. I’ve put my body through a lot. I’ve hammered myself. I’ve always trained hard, even as a teenager and in the amateurs, I’ve always trained hard. I’ve got mileage on my body but the human body is a magical thing and can go through a lot, it’s your brain where the mileage comes and I’ve not got mileage there.”
Johnson hasn’t reached out directly to Smith since their fight fell through but he did tag him in an Instagram story, saying he hopes they do get to meet one another.
“Hopefully he gets this fight out of the way and looks at it and says, ‘Let’s have the Callum Johnson fight.’ Let’s put that one to bed. It was a fight that had a lot of excitement around it,” Johnson went on. “A lot of people were looking forward to that fight and a lot of people in boxing want to see it and let’s be honest, whether the fight lasts one round or 12 rounds it’s a recipe for a good fight with Joe Smith, so it’s definitely an interesting fight for boxing.”
One of the main questions now is, should Smith win on Saturday night, whether he will meet WBO No. 1 light-heavyweight contender Anthony Yarde next, a promotional stablemate of Johnson but someone who is also running his own race to the world title. Johnson was hoping he’d defeat Smith and make his first defence in an all-UK clash with Yarde later in the year – unless he had contractual rematch obligations.
“That’s pretty much what the plan was,” Johnson lamented. “That’s what I thought was going to happen. I was convinced I’d beat Joe Smith. I was convinced. Then I was going to come back and defend it against Yarde.”