Junior featherweight Steve Johnson might have a modest professional record of 1-0, with one knockout, but he spent a significant portion of camp with Nick Ball, mimicking Raymond Ford.

Johnson’s emulation appeared successful as Ball won a split decision over Ford to become the new WBA featherweight titleholder. The bout took place at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Johnson, 21, who had never left the United States prior, recalls receiving a direct message while preparing for a club show fight on the regional circuit. Despite winning a USA Boxing national tournament after the pandemic. He holds wins amateurs over top amateurs Cain Sandoval, Diego Bengochea, Javier Zamarron, and Emilio Garica. Despite that, Johnson didn’t have the accolades of his more famous amateur peers and has had to take a blue-collar approach to his professional boxing journey. The invite to be in camp with Ball was a revelation and helped with future motivations.

“I got the opportunity through my friend, Domnique Crowder, who had sparred Nick Ball for the Rey Vargas fight,” said Johnson. “I woke up one morning and Nick Ball had DM’ed me.”

The 5’3” southpaw not only sparred with the future titleholder but ended up as the primary sparring partner of the camp. Johnson has only seen 1 minute and 50 seconds action as a pro, as that is how long it took him to stop Phillip Ramirez in his pro debut in Sacramento, California.

“They were really friendly when I got there, but when we got in the ring, it was straight business,” said Johnson. “It was a bunch of amazing sparring sessions, honestly. I saw myself getting better and improving. I also saw Nick improving. It was a good collaboration.”

“We sparred a lot,” said Johnson. “I was his primary sparring partner and his only sparring partner, so I got all the rounds. I didn’t even keep track of the rounds. It was a lot.”

As Johnson looks to stay busy this summer on the regional circuit to build up his record, he reflects on the life-changing experience of being part of a title-winning team and camp.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson. “But I always knew with my skill, the opponents I always faced in the amateurs, I could handle myself appropriately. It was nothing new to me, but it was a big confidence booster at the same time.”