by David P. Greisman
Barely 24 hours after being told he’d be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, former 112- and 115-pound titleholder Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson stood in a city government building in his hometown of Washington, D.C.
Those who had gathered were there for an event in advance of Saturday’s fight card featuring three local boxers — Anthony and Lamont Peterson, both of D.C., and Seth Mitchell, of Brandywine, Md.
But they also paid tribute to one of the true great area fighters, Johnson, who left the sport in 2006 with a record of 44-5 with 28 knockouts and one no contest.
Johnson, 40, who now works for the city in a role that sees him mediating between gangs, visiting the homes of kids who are not going to school, doing referrals for court visits, and working a youth program out of a boxing gym in Southeast D.C.
Johnson spoke with David Greisman of BoxingScene.com and Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com.
ON WHERE HE WAS WHEN HE FOUND OUT:
“I was at home, and at 12 o’clock I was all over the Internet. Then I happened to call up the Hall of Fame. I was like, ‘Well, y’all said 12 o’clock,’ so I was an hour early. It was at 1. … I was pacing. It was like the week of a fight. This week seemed like it was the longest week of your life, because you preparing for something that nobody can take away from you.
ON WHETHER HE EXPECTED TO BE INDUCTED:
“I felt like this: When [boxing manager] Cameron Dunkin came on MaxBoxing with Steve Kim, and he said that he’s the reason why I’m not a millionaire, because he didn’t let Danny Romero fight me, Johnny Tapia fight me, guys like Michael Carbajal. I said, well, ‘They know it’s not me that didn’t want to make the fights.’ But when Cameron Dunkin said he made all those guys stay away from me, Romero and Tapia, I said, ‘Well, okay, that was the only thing I was thinking that may hold me back, which was the opponents.’
“However, I was calling all them out. Nobody never called me out, so that tell you a lot. Me and Marvin Hagler and Aaron Pryor, nobody never called us out.”
ON THE ANNOUNCEMENT COMING THE WEEK OF A BIG FIGHT IN D.C.:
“I think it’s a perfect fit. It’s like a puzzle. Most importantly, I was with Freddie [Roach] last night, and then you gonna have Michael Buffer come in this week, so you got three … Hall of Famers that’s going to be in D.C., not to mention it’s in my hometown, and finally I can get the respect again from the boxing world. It’ll be even better if Lamont can beat Amir Khan and we can bring boxing back to the city.”
ON HOW HE FEELS AND HOW HE WANTS TO CAPITALIZE ON THIS:
“I’m floating on Cloud Nine. I’m looking forward now — HBO, I don’t even care if it’s The Cooking Channel, ESPN, the Animal Channel — I’m looking for some commentating.
“I’m ready to sign me a P.R. thing so we can get some of these endorsements, get some of these infomercials, do some of these commercials.”
ON HOW HE STAYED RETIRED RATHER THAN COMING BACK:
[jokingly] “I always like to be the first, so I’m going to be the first to come back after this retirement, and I’ma take a fight in maybe May. [Against Floyd?] Whoever want to do it. I may be on the undercard then, I don’t know. Let’s see if they got any cab drivers out in Vegas. [I weigh] about 200. I’ma fight at heavyweight now. That’s where the money at. [He’s actually between 140 and 150.]”
[Seriously] “I’d really love to be in the boxing game, either commentating or reff-ing.”
ON HIS FIRSTS:
“I was the first person to win a world title at the Verizon Center. I was the first African-American for the flyweight. I was the first African-American super-flyweight. Then, the crazy part about it is this — in 2000, they took my title from me. I had to go to college. They call it jail. And I came back out and won another title. That tells you a lot about my courage and my work ethic. You got guys who’ve been fighting, had five or six title shots, and couldn’t get it. And I did it.”
ON DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HIM AND MANNY PACQUIAO:
“There ain’t no comparison. Let me tell you something, like I told you before, nobody called me out, I called everybody out. I didn’t fight no dead men. I didn’t pull the wool over the people who don’t know boxing, fighting guys like Shane Mosley, De La Hoya, Margarito, them guys was already dead. Everybody I fought was alive. He finally fought Marquez, a guy that was 40 percent dead, and the guy controlled the whole fight, he controlled the pace of the whole fight.
“For me, I controlled all my fights. Ain’t nobody control the pace. I always make the comparison of me, Hagler and Aaron Pryor. Me and Hagler was left-handed, we was too good, we was too black. Aaron Pryor was both-handed, he was too good, and he was crazy. So when you got those three things, you can’t get nothing good out of boxing.
ON KHAN-PETERSON AND THE PETERSON BROTHERS:
“I predict a very good chess match early on. I really think Lamont has the boxing skills. He has the reach. He can give Amir Khan a lot of trouble, a lot of problems, from round one. Lamont just got to make Amir Khan respect him from round one. If he make Amir Khan respect him from round one, then we have a good fight. But if Lamont don’t make Amir Khan respect him, then he may be a little reckless.
“But I think Lamont know, and I spoke to him yesterday, that this is a dream come true, not only for him, but for guys like me. Cause I can remember, when I fought over at the D.C. Armory, and I still got a picture from when Anthony and Lamont came over there. They was just getting back from the Silver Gloves. They had to be about 10 or 12. I fought Arthur Johnson.
“I told them then, I said. ‘Listen, this is the stage and the plateau that you all are going to be on, so embrace it now, because it’s coming.’ And I reminded them of that yesterday. It’s a golden opportunity to bring boxing back. It’s a golden opportunity for Lamont. It’s a golden opportunity for everybody in the city to come out and support. And if the show do well, we got HBO back here. You can’t ask for nothing better than that.”
ON WHAT IT TAKES TO BRING BOXING BACK TO D.C.:
“Without the casinos, the boxing public is saying ‘We don’t want to be here.’ The casinos give you a site fee, rooms, per diem and all that. What I told them was if I was to become the D.C. boxing commissioner, and I would love to, I would say ‘Let’s give these promoters the convention center. Let’s go to these hotels that need tax write-offs. Let’s get these rooms. Not only are we giving them the convention center as a government, as a city, we can write that off on our taxes. But we still got a lot of people at higher places that don’t understand the sport or the game itself.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]