Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
‘Glen Johnson Wins the Battle for Bragging Rights to the Light Heavyweight Division’
MIAMI, FLA.—”A Battle for Bragging Rights,” the last major showdown of the year 2004, should be made mandatory viewing for underdogs the world over, as perennial underdog Glen ‘The Road Warrior’ Johnson persevered to steal the spotlight from Antonio ‘Magic Man’ Tarver in a spirited and hard fought championship battle.
Johnson – Tarver was all about bragging rights to the light heavyweight championship of the world; both men having forfeited their ownership of world acclaimed titles to face each other in this IBO sanctioned affair. (By the way, if Larry Merchant does not know what the IBO is, as he sarcastically asked last night, perhaps he should educate himself on the worthiness of this organization).
I suppose it’s fair to say that the stage became set for this fight when both Tarver and Johnson disposed of Roy Jones, Jr. via the short route. Tarver was convincing, but Johnson was devastating in his demolition of the one formerly known as Superman. The same game plan Johnson put in motion against Jones Jr. seemed to be the norm against Tarver. Johnson came out hot and heavy in the first round, a whirlwind of action and punches that sent Tarver on the retreat.
Round 2 saw great action, with Tarver seemingly more motivated by the respect issue brought up in his corner after round 1 by trainer Buddy McGirt. (The same blueprint worked very well against Jones Jr.).
Round 3 was a solid round for Tarver, who seemed very sharp here, punching more, scoring well with the jab. More of the same in the fourth round, which also belongs to Tarver.
Johnson turns it around in the fifth round, hurting Tarver with his relentless body attack. An inadvertent head butt causes a cut over Johnson’s left eye in the sixth episode, and the sight of blood seems to put Tarver on a very aggressive mode. I score this round for Tarver.
Both men work hard in round 7, or should I say harder? Incredible activity, Tarver setting punches off his jab, Johnson hell bent on fighting on the inside, even if it means taking a punch to dish out two or three. Glen’s tenacity earns him this round as well as the 8th. And by the way, since when do ring card girls get name recognition from commentators? Is that a new HBO policy?
Work rate drops a bit in round 9, after all, the pace has been furious so far, and at this moment Glen looks like a beaten man. Tarver’s round.
When Johnson returns to his corner, trainer Orlando Cuellar tells him he is down by two rounds, and needs to step it up.
Johnson takes the advise to heart, coming out aggressively, making Tarver look disinterested and frustrated. Glen’s round. Both fighters stumble back to their respective corners, exhausted, spent.
“Give me the best 3 minutes of your life and I’ll bring you back,” says Orlando Cuellar to Glen Johnson, who once again takes his trainer’s words to the next level, with a tremendous effort in round 11. Glen’s fury is unparallel and with few seconds left in the round Tarver visits the canvas; official calls it a push/slip, but I’m not quite sure about that. The body attack seems to have paid off big for Glen, who takes this round in convincing fashion.
“You gotta knock him out to win,” shouts Buddy McGirt to Tarver, as he drops on the stool. When the bell rings for the last round of this bout, the crowd erupts in cheer, and both fighters go to work on nothing but heart and adrenaline. They are physically exhausted, and it seems as though one well placed punch could take either guy out, the problem is that neither can muster enough strength to make that happen.
Tarver is seen squinting his right eye, both fighters are gasping for air, but Glen Johnson exhibits tremendous heart and determination, pushing himself to the max to earn this round, which he probably needs in order to eke out a win.
When I tallied my unofficial score, I had Johnson winning the fight 115-113, 7 rounds to 5. Close fights have never gone Johnson’s way, and this one was close, hard to score to say the least; I anxiously awaited the official scoring. Michael Buffer announced a split decision, 115-113 Johnson, 116-112 Tarver and 115-113 for the “Road Warrior” Johnson.
Johnson’s post fight interview was as classy as I’ve ever witnessed. When asked by Larry Merchant what won him the fight, a smiling Glen Johnson softly said, “Heart and hard work.” I couldn’t agree more. Reminded of an earlier statement, when Johnson stated that he didn’t consider himself the best, Merchant asked Johnson if he now felt he was the best. A witty and smiling Johnson replied, “No, I don’t consider myself the best, I’m still looking for Mr. Best.” Not even Merchant could top that, and he conceded with an impish smile. Johnson spoke highly of Tarver and didn’t rule out a rematch with the “Magic Man.”
In closing, much respect to Antonio Tarver and Buddy McGirt, this was a tough one to lose. (But please, ‘Tonio lose the Burger King crown). Our heartfelt congratulations go out to cutman Mark Vaz, the very underrated trainer Orlando Cuellar, manager Henry Foster, promoters Goossen Tutor and last but not least, to Glen Johnson, whose career could be considered an inspiration and an assertion that one should never give up. Glen Johnson may not be the best fighter in the world, but he is very good for the sport of boxing.