Johnson Takes A Step Forward

By Tom Donelson
Updated: April 25, 2008

GlovesIOWA CITY, Ia. — Last weekend began with seeing a young heavyweight take the next step toward a possible championship belt. Kevin Johnson is fast, quick but with only six knockouts in 18 victories; there is question of whether Johnson have the power to compete with the upper elites.

Johnson likes to brag that he has the fastest jab in the heavyweights and there is no doubt that is true. Terry Smith, a former prospect in his own right, found out very quickly how fast that jab was.

Johnson often scored with ease against Smith with his jab and occasionally sharp right. By the end of the fight, Smith left side was swollen but never in the fight was either fighter ever in trouble.

Smith began the early rounds attacking and attacking as he threw punches in bunches but many of those punches often missed Johnson. If he did not pick them off, he simply avoided them.

In the center of the round, Johnson’s jab dominated but even on the rope, Smith often failed to take advantage of his experience against the younger fighter.

The fight was close simply due to Smith’s volume of punches but as the fight continued, he began to tire. His punch volume dropped and Johnson continued his accuracy as he won an easy decision.

Johnson’s quickness will serve him but he rarely seemed to take advantage of all of his weapons. His jab is quick and his right often nails its target when he lets it go. He rarely uses a hook or an upper cut.

It is as if he is saving all of his tools for the right moment. There are times that he reserves his strength and his ability as he is satisfied to take moments off in the fight; allowing his defensive skills to prevail.

While fighting a second tier fighter like Smith, Johnson can allow those physical gifts to triumph over his opponents. As he moves up into the upper tier, he will need more than physical skills to overcome his opponents but he will need to develop a more complete arsenal.

If Johnson is still learning his trait, Bernard Hopkins is one of boxing genius within the ring. There are very few fighters who have Hopkins skills and ring knowledge and this was the one intangible as he faced Joe Calzaghe.

Hopkins’ defensive skills often included physical attributes but his has another weapon, his ability to counterattack. Hopkins’ last fight against Wright was against an opponent similar to Calzaghe, a fighter with hand speed with pop and often threw volume of punches.

His defensive skills diminished Wright’s output and in the first round, a Hopkins right nailed Calzaghe and sent him to the canvas. From that point, Calzaghe’s punch volume went down.

Hopkins in his older age often plays four corners forcing other opponents to fight his fight. In the first four rounds, Hopkins sharp right and defensive skills appear to take precedence over Calzaghe’s punch volume.

In the fifth round, Calzaghe appeared to gain some rhythm and continued to move forward in the sixth. At the halfway mark, the opening round knockdown would give Hopkins the advantage on the scorecard. (Harold Lederman had Calzaghe ahead, whereas I had Hopkins ahead.)

In the seventh round, Calzaghe’s volume of punches may have won the round but a short right nearly derailed the Welsh fighter. In a fight that became harder to score, Calzaghe threw combinations but Hopkins threw the sharper punch.

In the eighth round, Calzaghe threw shorter more accurate punches.

Max Kellerman noted that Calzaghe showed the jazzman improvisation whereas Hopkins was the meticulous professor who followed his game plan. As the fight continued, the fighter who improvised started to move ahead on the card.

Going into the 10th, Calzaghe started to move ahead on the scorecard. Hopkins pulled Calzaghe’s head down and Calzaghe nailed Hopkins below the belt. Hopkins took a long time leaving one to wonder was the old pro taking advantage of the time to disrupt Calzaghe rhythm.

It appeared to work and Hopkins looked rejuvenated.

Going in the 11th, Enzo Calzaghe, Joe’s dad, warned him that he was fighting Hopkins’ fight. Calzaghe appeared to have the edge but there were times that he jumped in without caution; leaving him vulnerable to Hopkins right.

Harold Lederman had Calzaghe ahead going in the last round, but in the Calzaghe camp exhorted their guy to go for the knockout. (For the record, I had Calzaghe ahead but had it much closer than Lederman.) The final round was like many of the rounds, close and hard to score.

I had Calzaghe barely win the round but it could have gone either way. While both fighters waited, it was noted that Calzaghe had a wide margin on the compubox scorecard but in the early rounds, Hopkins punches were sharper and more powerful.

As the fight wore on, Hopkins power ebbed and Calzaghe volume turned the tide.

Calzaghe won the fight by a split decision in a fight that was close and while Hopkins lost, there was nothing that detracted luster from a Hall of Fame career. As for Calzaghe, his unorthodox style proved decisive.

What does this mean for both fighters? For Hopkins, he showed that at 43, he stilled proved to be one of the best. For Calzaghe, this fight showed what was known in Britain for years; Calzaghe is one of the world’s best.

Bernard Hopkins have rarely been beaten and in even in defeat; he rarely beaten badly. He’s one of those fights who managed to force others to fight his fight and at times, he made Calzaghe look amateurish.

This fight enhanced both men’s reputation.

The light heavyweight divisions saw Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver lay claim as part of the light heavyweight elites but on this night, Joe Calzaghe won his second recognized championship belt and is the best light heavyweight.

And lest we forget, Kevin Johnson took another step toward his goal of being a Heavyweight champion and is slowly becoming the best American Heavyweight.