Fight Review ... Woods & Johnson

08.11.03 - By Elliot Worrsell (Photo by "Mr Will") - ‘We’ve gotta do the fight again! And get it back in England, and possibly at a bigger arena!’ Those were the words uttered by Tom Brown who is the matchmaker for top US promoter Dan Goosen following the see saw slugfest between Sheffield’s Clinton Woods 35-2-1 (21 KO’s) and Jamaica’s rugged Glencoffe Johnson 39-9-2 (27 KO’s) for the IBF Light Heavyweight title at the Hillsborough Leisure Centre, Sheffield that ended in a needle thin draw.

It was a hugely disappointing outcome for both participants who were eagerly looking to take advantage of former IBF king Antonio Tarver’s decision to vacate the title, and become a recognised world champion in their own right.

‘I wouldn’t have argued either way to be honest, I thought it was a very close fight, and a great one, that has to happen again.’ Was the opinion of promoter Dennis Hobson’s partner Robert Waterman, who, like many ringsiders, found it extremely difficult to separate the two gutsy combatants who didn’t leave an ounce in the ring upon their departure.

The 34 year old Johnson, a two time IBF title challenger at middleweight and super middleweight, was coming off a career best outing against hard hitting lefty Eric Harding, and according to his manager Henry Foster was in tremendous shape going into the Woods battle. ‘I’m totally confident, and quite frankly I think Glen will be too strong and too quick. I don’t even think it will be close. Glen has been bang on the weight for three weeks now, and he had a great dinner last night, and was the exact same weight this morning when we checked him on the scales. He even had breakfast this morning and was only 4 lbs over, so we all know he’s in great shape for this fight.’

Johnson looked mean and menacing en route to the ring, as he trudged through a crescendo of noise and taunts from the rowdy and loyal Sheffield crowd. It was nothing new to Johnson however, who is all to familiar with fighting in the opponents back yard. He’s made a career out of it.

Woods, who was in a focused mood beforehand in the dressing room, raised the roof of the intimate Leisure Centre upon entrance, as Sheffield hoped to crown ‘one of their own’ the IBF Light Heavyweight champion of the world.

Geared up by the outgoing and brash former heavyweight champion and trainer Tim Witherspoon, Woods looked somewhat pensive as he stood through the rituals and formalities occurring in the ring. Johnson on the other hand, had a mean, angry scowl scribbled across his wrinkling forehead, as he shuffled up and down the ring canvas, as if he was preparing for a Friday night jive with the Yorkshire man. First impressions count for a lot in this game, and for me, Johnson looked in great mental condition, and looked like a guy, determined to leave this fight out of the hands of the three judges.

The opening bell rung, and the fury Johnson had seemingly been building up in the pre fight introductions was let out as he charged Woods, intent on getting the lanky Sheffield fighter on the back foot.

Woods, who enjoyed a superior height and reach advantage, needed to be away from the ropes to achieve success against the marauding Miami based fighter. Johnson was having a field day inside, as he loaded up on ferocious looking body shots and clubbing over hand rights. For the opening 2 minutes of the round Woods, who is not noted as a big puncher, was having difficulty keeping the stocky opponent off, and was a standing target for Glencoffe to tee off on.

The second session was a more circumspect start for Johnson, who was obviously somewhat fatigued due to his tremendous work rate in the previous round. He was using the jab more, rather than wailing away with home run hooks on the taller man. Woods was having more success when Johnson chose to stand off though, as Clinton had the opportunity to shoot out his long, raking job into the face of Johnson has he stalked forward.

The aggressive Jamaican continued with his bulldozer routine with a minute to go as he backed Woods up and threw a series of hurtful looking hooks and searing uppercuts, some landing, some hitting the gloves of the shell shocked Sheffield fighter.

Woods was not without success either though, as he capitalised on Johnson’s weariness in round 3 and began using his left jab with more authority, screwing up the ageing, battle hardened face of the fierce looking Johnson. The Jamaican was notably tiring, but like the true craftsman that he is, saved his tank for the last minute, when he continued to lay on Woods by the ropes and flurry away with shots. Woods made his first ‘mark’ on Johnson during one of the exchanges by the ropes as he rapidly shot out three fast straight rights that brought about an infuriated response from Johnson.

Johnson was fighting like a guy in fear of the judges, as if a little man was telling him to ‘not stop throwing power punches, or you will lose’. Every time Woods gritted his teeth and came back, Johnson would be on autopilot to match him.

The pace was frenetic as neither man wanted to let the other get the upper hand. The 4th followed a similar pattern. Johnson pressing, but significantly tiring, and Woods, reddened round the face, beginning to get back into the fight via a series of impressively picked counter left hooks and right crosses. The 4th round was the first round I thought Woods won ‘big’, and it seemed Glencoffe’s spirit had been somewhat quenched by Woods’ counter shots and his grit and determination to stay with the Jamaican throughout the first few barnstorming rounds.

The 5th and 6th were both Johnson’s though in my eyes, as he was simply ‘forcing the fight, and setting the pattern of the fight. It was becoming noticeable from ringside that Woods, although showing tremendous heart and bravery to ride with Johnson on the rope’s, didn’t have the ‘pop’ in his punches to keep the granite skulled Johnson off. Woods needed to be in the middle of the ring, constantly on the move with his jab flicking out almost subconsciously. Easier said than done though. Johnson was contagious. He’d bully Woods, hook away with body shots, sap Woods’ strength, and simply outwork him for long periods.

The 7th round was something of a ‘coffee break’ for the two gladiators intent on becoming king of the 175 lb division. Both were tired, and both were subsequently much easier to hit, especially Johnson, who was still stalking, but being picked off by the ramrod jab Woods was throwing with a passion.
Worryingly for the noisy Sheffield faithful Woods’ hands had dropped, and he was woefully exposed to any overhand rights Johnson would choose to hand him.

Fact is, Johnson didn’t choose to throw too many in the 7th, or even 8th as Woods began to dominate with his sharp and well picked jab and his wicked left hook counters as Johnson leant over to unload his own shots. The ‘second wind’ had arrived for Clinton, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Johnson was becoming lazy with his jab, and leaving it out to dry once he threw it. Woods exposed this slight ineptness with some brilliantly picked straight rights that were catching Johnson as he attacked.

There was a sense from ringside, that for all Johnson’s eye catching aggression and work rate, Woods was still very much in the contest, and with the worrying tiredness the Jamaican seemed to be displaying, Woods had to be favourite to sweep his fair share of the late rounds. To highlight the closeness of the contest, Boxing News had the fight level after 8 rounds.

The 9th was fought at a frenzied pace, as both men knew the fight was nearing closure, and was still there for the taking. Johnson started the better for the first minute as he connected time and time again with his mallet like right hand as Woods got lazy and took respite on the ropes.

One image that will stick in my mind from the 9th round was Glencoffe leaning over the shoulder of Woods during a clinch and offering a look towards one of the three judges at ringside. It was almost theatrical, the US hard man offering a sympathetic look towards one of the men who holds his fate in his hands, and the figure Johnson has learned to despise throughout his ten year career.

Johnson needed the judges help too, because there was no way the fight would end between first and final bell. Both guys displayed granite chins, unquenchable wills, and hearts the size of Roy Jones Jr. paycheck for his fight in Vegas against Antonio Tarver tomorrow night.

Johnson had a big round in the 10th when he simply out hustled Woods along the ropes. Shouts of ‘he’s tired’ were coming from Woods’ devoted supporters, but in all honesty, Johnson, although clearly fatigued, still found a way to make Woods fight Johnson’s fight. That was the key. Woods was replying to whatever moves Johnson forced, and not the other way round.

A sharply fired left hook near the bell from Woods was his only noteworthy success in the round, as Johnson got lazy and sluggish following some high intensity slugging.

With two rounds to go, opinion was divided amongst ringsiders. Some said Woods was up, some said Johnson.

More importantly, both Woods and Johnson knew the battle was in the balance, and they came out for the 11th and 12th as if there lives depending on it, as if a point deduction would occur if they stopped throwing power shots.

Woods was teeing off on Johnson in the 11th as he was backed by the soundtrack of booming drums, ear-splitting trumpets and passionate vocals by his proud fan base.

He had success with a right cross over the lacklustre defence of Johnson that markedly shook the Jamaican and allowed Woods to follow up with some eye catching combinations on the ropes. For a change, Woods was the one on the front foot, and Johnson was the one having to cover for shelter on the ropes. Woods won the 11th on my card, and had to. Johnson only had a spasmodic attack towards the rounds end, as Woods punched himself out and was caught by a haymaker right hand as he leaned back on the ropes.

Going into the last and final round, the scheduled 12 rounder had been squashed up, squeezed down and condensed into the space of three minutes. In effect, you could throw away the 11 preceding rounds, as this fight was there to be one and lost in the final 180 seconds.

Johnson started reckless, like blind man trying to squat a fly with spoon. He was being countered by a now rejuvenated Woods, who was capitalising on Johnson’s tiredness, and was pushing him onto the back foot. Johnson was tucked up into a shell, with his left jab seemingly his only weapon of choice. Compared to Woods’ efforts in the final three minutes, the Jamaican offered very little, except extreme dosages of resistance, heart and pride.

Perhaps Johnson believed he had the win in the bag? Either way, Woods was the one dominating down the stretch and firing off eye catching left-right combinations to the head as Johnson was ‘on his last legs’ so to speak.

The final minute was all Woods, as Johnson found himself getting exposed by counter shots, and was having to clinch and smother Clinton’s well-schooled and well picked shots.

Johnson found himself on the deck towards the bell, but it was ruled a slip. Woods excitedly claimed a knockdown, but it was clear from ringside that Johnson had made the same fall from the same piece of canvas Woods had done earlier in the bout.

The bell rung following one last ‘bombs away’ exchange from the warriors that left Johnson with blood trickling down his lip, and Woods was lifted a hoist by proud as punch trainer Tim Witherspoon.

Henry Foster did likewise, as the gritty Johnson was raised aloft, and was also claiming what would be a well deserved victory for a career made mostly on the road, and fought in the others guys home.

Truth is, neither guy deserved to lose. They both displayed heart and guts beyond the call of duty, and they were near inseparable at the bouts end. I had Johnson up by one point, based on how I believed he had ‘made’ the fight, and outworked and out hustled Woods for long periods of the fight.

It was hard to argue with those who perceived Woods as winning however. He came on strong late, capitalised on Glencoffe’s fatigue, and displayed the cleaner work in the second half o the fight.

The indecision and mixed opinion at ringside was mirrored by the judges, who frustratingly couldn’t find a winner after 12 evenly contested rounds, and therefore the IBF title promoter Dennis Hobson and his team had worked so tirelessly to get hold of, remained vacant.

Judge Paplillo believed Johnson won it handily 116-112, judge Bennett saw Woods as the victor by 115-113, and judge Howard Foster from England saw the fight as a evenly fought 114-114 draw.

In truth, it was hard to argue with any of the judge’s scorecards, and although Glencoffe looked pained at the decision, it would have led to cause for complain either way the decision went.

A source close to the Woods camp summed up the feelings of a few ringsiders as he muttered a passing comment ‘we got away with that one’. It was hard to call the decision controversial, as it was excruciatingly close, but either way, it would have been nice, and far more beneficial to have crowned a new champion last night, rather than 3, 4 or 6 months down the line, if the rematch comes to fruition.

It was a tremendous battle, and lived up to all the pre fight ‘Competitive, hard to call, 50:50 fight’ hype beforehand, as the two evenly matched, honest pro’s put on a cracking show for the small Leisure Centre crowd and the viewers on the BBC broadcast at 11.25 PM.

One of the shows promoters Rob Waterman backed the participation of the BBC, but also said the rematch deserves live, hyped up coverage. ‘This fight should have been live, prime time, but it was very hard for the BBC. We only found out it would be a full world title fight this week, and the BBC worked hard to get a better slot but it couldn’t happen. I’m defending the BBC because they are not a sports channel, they are a general channel, and to be fair, they were a big help in getting the fight changed from an eliminator to a world title fight. I’m sure they will find a better slot for the rematch.’

The encouraging noises coming from Waterman, Hobson and US promoter Dan Goosen suggest this intense battle will definitely lead to a much needed rematch, and if all is to believed back in Britain too. That outcome is the least Woods and Johnson deserve. Two solid, top ten pro’s fought their hearts out tonight for a once in a lifetime chance of claiming to be ‘world champion’, only to receive the dissatisfaction of knowing neither guy can proclaim that status, and that the title that has been the subject of so much talk this week, remains vacant.

Article posted on 08.11.2003

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