By Keith Idec
Callum Johnson accepted their fight so quickly, Joe Gallagher repeated Artur Beterbiev’s name over the phone to make sure Johnson heard what he said.
The largely unknown British light heavyweight heard his trainer loud and clear. Johnson plans to make an even louder statement Saturday night by upsetting Beterbiev in their 12-round fight for the Russian knockout artist’s IBF 175-pound championship.
Beterbiev’s handlers had difficulty finding an opponent for this optional title defense, but Johnson isn’t the least bit intimidated by a dangerous champion who has knocked each of his pro opponents (12-0, 12 KOs).
The game challenger compared the 33-year-old Beterbiev to former IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.
“These Russians, they seem to have this reputation as being these indestructible humans,” Johnson told DAZN, which will stream their fight live from Chicago. “You know, Kovalev – obviously, I’m no Andre Ward, don’t get me wrong – Kovalev was this indestructible beast until Andre Ward came along. You know, he bullied the bully and stopped him. They get tagged on the chin, they’ll go down like everybody else. And my plan is just tagging him on the chin.”
Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth round of their light heavyweight championship rematch in June 2017. Eleider Alvarez scored an even more convincing knockout against Kovalev in the seventh round of their August 4 fight for Kovalev’s WBO 175-pound crown.
The 33-year-old Johnson rejuvenated his career by knocking out fellow Brit Frank Buglioni (22-3-1, 16 KOs) in the first round of their March 24 fight at O2 Arena in London. Before beating Buglioni, Johnson hadn’t boxed since knocking out Namibia’s Willbeforce Shihepo (25-10, 18 KOs) in the ninth round of a September 2016 bout in Manchester, England.
Beterbiev will end nearly an 11-month layoff of his own when he encounters Johnson (17-0, 12 KOs), who’s ranked No. 7 among the IBF’s light heavyweight contenders. The two-time Olympian still is about an 11-1 favorite over Johnson, who’ll take a huge step up in competition.
“A lot of people are thinking I’m crazy or I’ve got no chance,” Johnson said. “Listen, has he ever faced anybody as strong as me? I don’t think he would’ve. And will I have faced anyone as strong as him? We’ll see on the night.”
Beterbiev-Johnson will be part of a DAZN stream from DePaul University’s Wintrust Arena.
The main event will match former WBO welterweight champ Jessie Vargas (28-2-1, 10 KOs) against Thomas Dulorme (24-3, 16 KOs) in a 12-rounder. Undercard coverage is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.