By Shaun Brown
AFTER an admirable showing in his first ever world title challenge Callum Johnson (17-1, 12 KOs) is looking to kick on and return to action in December.
The British and Commonwealth Light Heavyweight champion went toe-to-toe with IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev in Chicago earlier this month dropping the seemingly invincible Russian in the second round only to be stopped in the fourth of a mini war in the Windy City.
In defeat the positives have shone through for Johnson. Despite having only had 90 seconds of boxing under his belt in 18 months prior to fighting Beterbiev – a spectacular win over Frank Buglioni to become British champion – the 33-year-old has taken a huge amount of confidence from his display and from here on in is only interested in big fights.
“I’ve shaken the rust off. I had that fight with Frank. I had them good four rounds with Beterbiev. I’ve had two fights in the last seven months. It’s just a shame I had to shake the ring rust off against Beterbiev. I just want big fights. I don’t want to mess about with any eight rounders or ten rounders,” the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist told Boxing Scene.
“They’ve got to be proper fights now. I’m 33. I’m ranked in the top ten in the world. I’m pretty well known now, and in America as well. My stock’s risen massively. They have to be big fights now because I don’t think people appreciate seeing me in little six, eight round fights either. They want to see me in big fights. I don’t feel like I need a little six, eight rounder to come back because I feel fresh. Okay, it was a tough fight, but it wasn’t a 12-round fight. I’m ready to jump in with whoever. If someone said to me, ‘You’re going to fight [Sergey] Kovalev in eight weeks’, I’d be like ‘Let’s go’. I’d fancy doing the job as well. I took so much confidence from the fight against Beterbiev. I think that night made me realise just how good I actually am and can be.”
Johnson’s career has finally taken off. Injuries, inactivity and the death of his father had us all wondering whether or not he would be able to continue in the sport at all. A firefight with arguably the best 175lb fighter in the world will obviously do wonders for you, win or lose. But Johnson admitted to ‘Scene that he believes he let himself down somewhat, particularly during fight week.
“I maybe doubted myself a little bit and didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I should have done,” he said.
“I let the occasion maybe get to me a little bit. You live and learn. It’s an experience I’ve gained, and I’ll only come on from the experience mentally. I can’t wait to get the opportunity again and put right where I went wrong last time.”
The shackles are now off. His willingness to take on someone like Sergey Kovalev – who may or may not have seen better days – in eight weeks speaks volumes. Of course, it’s a fight that won’t happen because Kovalev has a rematch with WBO champion Eleider Alvarez to look forward to in the first quarter of next year. But Kovalev, Alvarez, Dmitry Bivol and the rest of the leading lights at 175lbs should be all will within reach at some point in 2019. A year where we will find out whether Callum Johnson will become a world champion or not.
Most of the divisional top ten are tied up for the coming months with world title defences or challenges of their own. There is however one name in that list who does not: Badou Jack. The 24-year-old Las Vegas based Swede was unlucky not to take Adonis Stevenson’s WBC title in May when the pair fought out a majority draw in Toronto, a fight that was Jack’s first at his new weight. Johnson mentioned Jack, before he fought Beterbiev, as a fight he would love to take on but as he says he doesn’t have much to offer the former super middleweight world champion.
“I’ve got nothing to offer him other than some stiff, hard hooks!
“He’s got a bigger name than me and he’s higher up in the rankings than me so it’s like a no-win fight for Badou Jack. So, I imagine he wouldn’t be interested in the fight. But me? I’d certainly be interested in it because I’d have a lot to gain from it even though there’s no title at stake.”
A break in Tenerife with himself and his family is what Johnson can look forward to in the short term. A bit of rest and recuperation regardless of feeling fresh and having not boxed many rounds. ‘The One’ has had two seismic fights at home and abroad this year. Two camps as well mean the body and mind needs some down time. A chance to soak up the sun, while keeping fit, before going again, he hopes, in December.
A fight at the end of the year will give the British number one the chance to unleash some of the frustrations he still feels, and will do for a while, after almost taking Artur Beterbiev’s world title, unbeaten record and his monstrous reputation. From the opening bell Johnson showed little fear, taking the centre of the ring, backing up Beterbiev and seemed comfortable in the exchanges. His good work was undone late in the opener when he was dropped by a right hand. The following round saw Johnson’s chance come and go as he evened up the knockdowns putting the 33-year-old down for the second time in his pro career.
A slight stagger from Beterbiev to his right looked as though he was there for the taking. Surprisingly, the challenger did next to nothing for the duration of the round. The Russian monster had recovered.
“I’m just kicking myself in that second round that I never put it on him after I got that knockdown because he was hurt, he was on unsteady legs. I sort of froze in that moment,” said Johnson.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” he answered when ‘Scene asked why he froze.
“Maybe the knockdown in the first round maybe swayed my thought pattern. I felt as though I was very unlucky in the first round. I took a full-on punch when I wasn’t expecting it but making no excuses it happened, I can’t change it. Maybe if that first knockdown hadn’t happened, maybe I might have gone in for the kill more, who knows. At the end of the day when it’s all said and done the better man won on the day and that’s all there is to it, but I know I can perform better, and I will perform better next time and just do a few little things differently from the experience.”
Beterbiev’s reputation carries on then, albeit with a slight question mark hanging over it which his fellow rivals will have noted.
“I think he is the beast everyone says he is, but I think I probably underestimated myself a little bit and I think I’m a bit of a beast to be honest.”
Beasts, monsters… it all makes the light heavyweight division sound like one terrifying yet thrilling prospect no matter what side of the ropes you are on.
Johnson is bang in there now. And while you would have to make the leading players a favourite over the Brit should he come up against any of them his stock has risen to a place where the world’s best will be confident of beating him but at the same time will be incredibly wary of what he can do when he lets his hands go, and even more so now that he has that much needed confidence knowing he can mix it with them.
“If you look at the top ten, they’re all very, very good fighters. There are three or four of them in there who are absolute monsters. But at the end of the day my name is in that mix now. And if I was to fight any one of them I’m not sure people would be too sure who was going to win. I don’t think people would want to write me off so easily. I’ve enhanced my career. I’m looking forward to the future. I’m very, very confident I will go on to win a world title.”
In the meantime, Johnson would be more than happy to defend his British title, or as he told ‘Scene, challenge the winner of this weekend’s European title fight in Germany between champion Dominic Boesel and challenger Enrico Koelling. A fight that would likely take place early 2019.
“I’d like to fight for the European title. I’d like to add that to my collection. I’m open to anything. Whatever makes sense.”