|Glen Johnson strode confidently towards the ring to face Antonio Tarver. Gone was the wide-eyed bemusement etched across his face just three months ago before his defeat of Roy Jones Jr. Johnson was still a humble figure and diligent in preparation, but this new swagger of his, topped by a relaxed smile indicated that he truly felt that he belonged.|
Glen Johnson looked like a man who had spent some time looking out from the top of the mountain, and enjoyed what he saw. Tarver appeared wearing a striking turquoise robe and a large, kingly crown upon his head, he had said that in the absence of a legitimate title, (are you listening IBO?) he wanted to come to the ring wearing something that indicated his status as a champion. But it was more than that really. Tarver’s lifelong dream was upended by Johnson’s performance against Jones, it scuffed the high shine of Tarver’s long awaited arrival at Jones’ expense and Tarver, in every which way possible sought to remind the boxing world of his superiority. To me, Tarver looked like someone desperately trying to steal attention, despising the notion of being overlooked in favor of a journeyman champion.
Let’s face it though, the die was cast. Tarver was always something of a braggart and he had spent much of the six months since defeating Jones not letting anyone forget what he had done. Many people wanted to see Antonio Tarver put on his back. Conversely, Johnson defeated Jones and you could not find a person willing to argue against his right to a moment’s glory, a feeling reinvigorated by his classy demeanor and eagerness to sign on for the Tarver fight. Feats the like of which Johnson attempted invoke jittery feelings in boxing’s groomed superstars and they wince at the prospect of giving up a title the way he did. On the surface, it was bold for Johnson to take the gamble, but for a man who never stopped believing in himself, a man lacking the preciousness of a protected fighter, it was the natural thing for him to do.
The fight itself was conclusive enough to declare Glen Johnson as the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world, even though no truly acknowledged title was present; perhaps my desire to see all sanctioning organizations defunct will be realized in my lifetime after all. However, a rematch will likely take place and no significant arguments can be found to stop it. The rematch will not be obstructed because Roy Jones Jr. is a spent force as a fighter and the procession of undesirable contenders remaining in the light heavyweight division renders Johnson-Tarver II as the last true 175-pound marquee event in the foreseeable future.
Tarver’s failure is the latest in a long line of fights in recent times to challenge our preconceptions of boxing and its protagonists. We think ourselves to be so knowledgeable and complete in our observations, blissfully unaware that we preside over a game so unpredictable that words such as “surprised” should be abandoned from our vocabulary. Glen Johnson deserves his moment. The construction worker with the do-it-yourself boxing legacy. Nobody would care how classy Johnson is or how humble he sounds if he didn’t win, boxing is a cruel sport but occasionally, good fortune shines on someone who deserves it, and Glen Johnson is that man now.
I’ll leave you with a thought. Throughout all the years that we’ve pondered the career choices of Roy Jones Jr., the legitimacy of his claim as one of the greatest fighters of all time, the endless debate over the strength of his opposition level, the scathing criticism over his calculating move up in weight to claim a portion of the heavyweight title. The constant references to his superiority as an athlete demonstrated by his prowess not only in the ring but also inothersports, his crossover into musical ventures, the adequacy of his rap concert ring entrances and finally, his animated quarrels and ultimate duels with Antonio Tarver. I find it almost comical that we have dedicated so much time to Jones and his plight, but in the end, he is merely a bit-part player in the Glen Johnson story, the journeyman who became a champion, who gambled it all and lived to tell the tale and now, he’s on top of the world.
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at email@example.com