Sharkie’s Machine: Johnson vs. Tarver – “A New Rivalry Begins”

20.12.04 – By Frank Gonzalez Jr – December 18th, 2004 – Something special happened Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Light-Heavyweight Champions Antonio Tarver (WBC Champ) and Glen Johnson (IBF Champ) defied their Sanctioning Bodies, relinquished their Titles and faced each other to show the world who’s really the best Light Heavy between them.

In what had to be another humbling experience for Roy Jones Jr. (who was part of the HBO Commentating crew), who had to sit through clip after clip of both Tarver and Johnson knocking him out, Tarver vs. Johnson was an action packed fight that unlike any fight Roy’s ever been in.

The question of who’s the better LHW between Tarver and Johnson remains unanswered. Although I had Tarver winning by one round on my card, if ever there was an even fight—this was it. This fight screamed for a rematch. Both won their share of rounds and neither man ever dominated the other. Maybe a 15 rounder would’ve better answered the question..

After both men beat Roy Jones Jr. by KO, it seemed perfectly natural to match them up with each other but that was a fight that the IBF and WBC refused to sanction. So, Tarver and Johnson did what Warriors do when they have to be Warriors first and Businessmen second.

This is the kind of fight the fans really want to see, not some predictable contest arranged based on the business interests of Sanctioning Bodies and Promoters. Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson took the road less traveled and did the right thing.

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Glen Johnson is a hard working fighter, who never talks crap and fights a clean and honest fight. His attitude and his pressure style of boxing rewarded him the biggest win of his career when he knocked out Roy Jones Jr. in the eighth round after winning every single round of their fight last September. While he’s not a big banger, Johnson accumulates damage with a high volume of punches, hard work and good stamina. He has a damn good chin and his defense is respectable. He also has that quality admired most in Boxing—a big heart.

After being considered a “Journeyman” for so long and losing decisions that should have went his way but instead went to hometown fighters, Johnson kept coming forward. He was robbed against Daniel Judah last year getting a Draw instead of a win. After the fight, Judah even admitted that he thought he lost the fight. A year later, after beating Roy Jones Jr. convincingly, Glen Johnson has paid his dues and has arrived.

As for the southpaw Tarver, besides being damn a good fighter, he’s a likable sort. He’s quick-witted, charismatic and throws a hell of a Left Hook. He was the first to destroy Roy and instead of following in Jones’ footsteps career wise, he showed a refreshing appetite for the taking on the toughest match up instead of a predictable, mandatory one. Although depending on who that mandatory would be, it is open to debate. But how can mandatory match ups be credible when the whole ranking system isn’t?

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The Fight

Johnson entered the ring with the same humility he brought with him to the Roy Jones Jr. fight. No costumes, no frills, no scowling gangsta rappers screaming into hand held microphones. Just Glen, The Gentleman, come to fight.

Tarver entered the ring energetically, smiling and followed by an entourage. He was wearing a red Crown on his head that made him look more like a Cardinal then a King and was draped in a blue robe. He said he’d give the Crown to Johnson…if Johnson won. I could just see Johnson saying in all sincerity, “Thanks, but you can keep it.”

There was no ‘bad blood’ or any of the standard, unnecessary, pre-fight nonsense coming into the ring.

Round 1
Johnson was aggressive from the start, pressing Tarver, getting close and throwing a lot of punches that were landing. It was a similar strategy he employed against Roy Jones. Like Jones, Tarver did very little, looking like he was feeling Johnson out and looking to make his mark in the next round. 10-9 Johnson.

Round 2
Johnson landed some punches early, while aggressively pursuing Tarver, who moved ever backwards to avoid being hit. Tarver boxed and tried to establish his range and rarely threw punches in the first part of the second round. Then midway into the round, Tarver got aggressive and started to land cleanly. Johnson kept up the pressure and they both scored in spots as the
action started to pick up. They reversed roles. Tarver became the aggressor and Johnson was doing most of the covering up. Late in the round, Johnson stepped up his offense and scored well. They did about equal damage. Johnson pounded Tarver as the round came to a close. 10-10 even. (20/19 Johnson.)

Round 3
Tarver looked a little winded as he was forced to be more active then he usually is against other fighters. He managed to find his range as he boxed well and landed good shots. Johnson kept coming forward, while Tarver punched effectively going backwards. Tarver landed a big left hand and Johnson took it well. Johnson always threw to the body and kept the pressure on. Tarver landed the cleaner shots that did more damage but it was Johnson who was dictating the tempo and forcing the counter-punching Tarver to be more aggressive then he likes to be. When Tarver rallied his offense, Johnson went into a defensive shell. 10-9 Tarver. (29/29 Even.)

Round 4
Johnson pressured Tarver into the ropes and always attacked the body, while blocking many of Tarver’s counter punches. Tarver came on later in the round, jabbing well and putting some solid punches together, breaking Johnson’s guard and scoring, mostly upstairs. Tarver used his jab to set the right distance to punch and was very effective. 10-9 Tarver. (39/38 Tarver.)

Round 5
Johnson maintained the pressure and scored shots to the body and the head while forcing Tarver to fight going backwards. Johnson didn’t allow Tarver to get into his range as often as he kept things closer, which gave him better opportunities to score. Johnson landed a big right hand that had to hurt Tarver, who was taking more then he was giving. There were a few clinches as the action slowed, with both men a little winded from all the action. But it was all Johnson in round 5. 10-9 Johnson. (48/48 Even.)

Round 6
Tarver boxed outside and tried to change the tempo but Johnson always brought the fight right into his chest. They banged heads and Johnson suffered a cut over his left eye. Tarver landed a left and then another straight left into Johnson’s face. Tarver was starting to loosen up and let his hands go, causing Johnson to go defensive. It was all Tarver, who capped the round with a big left hand into Johnson’s face as the bell rang. 10-9 Tarver. (58/57 Tarver.)

Between rounds, Buddy McGirt told Tarver to stop going for the one big shot, to take his time and box. Johnson’s corner told him that the bodywork he was doing was working and to keep at it. Both corners did an excellent job of coaching and keeping their fighters focused.

Round 7
Tarver started strong, out-boxing Johnson and landing the cleaner shots. Johnson never wavered and kept coming forward, always throwing combinations that focused on the body. Tarver spent a lot of time moving and trying to stay away from Johnson to get some oxygen. Johnson was pacing himself well and was doing the most work. 10-9 Johnson. (67/67 Even.)

Round 8
They brawled near the ropes and Tarver scored the cleaner punches. Johnson landed a double left hook to the body but Tarver took it well, backed up, found his range and began to score at will as Johnson slowed some and was getting easier to hit. Neither man was really able to hurt the other, though both scored in turns. There were some clinches initiated by Johnson.
Glenn always threw to the body when close. 10-9 Tarver. (77/76 Tarver.)

Round 9
They exchanged punches at centering. Though he was slowing a bit, Johnson always kept the pressure on and found ways to get inside and land to the body and head. Johnson rallied energetically and scored some but Tarver landed the cleaner punches in a tight round. 10-9 Tarver. (87/85 Tarver)

Round 10
Johnson continued to apply pressure and landed some good shots up and down. Tarver was winded and looked like all those shots to his body were starting to pay dividends for Johnson. Tarver took a breather as he stayed on defense and backed up and circled the ring avoiding Johnson as best he could. Johnson took full advantage and easily won the round by outworking Tarver. The crowd was electric as Johnson looked to be turning the tide in his favor late in the fight. 10-9 Johnson. (96/95 Tarver.)

Round 11
Johnson kept after Tarver and was catching him. They brawled and both scored good combinations. Johnson not only showed a hell of a chin but that he was in excellent shape (stamina-wise) as he took a some good shots from Tarver without consequence.

During one exchange near the ropes, Tarver threw a left hand at the same time Johnson threw a right, both missed. Then Johnson uncoiled a sneaky left hook to the right side of Tarver’s head followed by a pushing body shot into Tarver’s side causing Tarver to fall into Johnson, lose his balance and go down. It was ruled a slip. People in the audience shouted that it was a knock down. It was, but the ref ruled it a slip. If you slip as a result of being hit by punches, isn’t that a knock down? It wasn’t like Tarver slipped on a wet area of the canvas, or they were clinching and he was tripped and slipped. If Johnson didn’t throw those two punches, Tarver wouldn’t have lost his balance and went down.

When Tarver got up, Johnson smelled blood and went for the kill, he landed a few more good shots. Tarver looked a bit staggered but survived. With seconds left, Johnson scored a couple of big rights and had Tarver against the ropes, covering up while Johnson riddled him with shots. The crowd roared. It might have been 10-8 round for Johnson if Boxing had Instant Replay—but it doesn’t. 10-9 Johnson. (105/105 Even.)

In Tarver’s corner, McGirt told him that he had to knock Johnson out and he had to punch and not stop and to stand his ground. Johnson’s trainer asked him to go out there and put together the best round of his career. The intensity of this fight was awesome.

Round 12
They boxed and traded shots, with Tarver landing the more telling blows. Johnson was in his peek-a-boo offense, hands up high covering his face, elbows covering his body, popping out shots at opportune moments. Tarver landed a big left hand that stunned Johnson, who clinched and forced Tarver to reset. Tarver rallied and Johnson blocked much of his onslaught. After
weathering the storm, Johnson rallied but Tarver found ways to avoid his best punches and countered with good shots of his own. Johnson stalked Tarver, who landed another big left hook that knocked Johnson back. Johnson held his own and always snuck in a body shot whenever Tarver was near enough. They clinched, then slugged it out, then Johnson landed a right hand
that rocked Tarver backwards. Johnson aggressively forced the action and Tarver looked to counter him. Johnson again scored with a right hand that wobbled Tarver back into the ropes. Johnson jumped on Tarver and peppered him with shots until the final bell. Though Johnson finished strong, Tarver did the most damage in the twelfth round. 10-9 Tarver. (115-114 Tarver.)

What a fight! I scored it 115-114 for Tarver but it could easily have been the other way around or a Draw. This was a very close fight and they definitely need to do it again. This could be the beginning of a great rivalry.

The Judges scores were as follows:
Marty Denkin—116-112 for Tarver.
Chuck Giampa—115-113 for Johnson.
Melvina Lathan—115-113 for Johnson.

I thought Tarver pulled it out by a round but Johnson got the nod from the Official Judges—rare for him, as he can tell you, since he’s used to losing close decisions on the road. That’s why he calls himself “The Road Warrior.”

I expected Tarver to get the nod though, since he’s the more popular of the two. Great arguments can be made that either man won this fight or that it was a Draw. Both men will see their stock rise as the year 2005 rolls in.

This fight is far from over. This is a trilogy in the making if I ever saw one. If you been a fight fan long enough, you remember the great rivalries of the past that made Boxing so popular back then. We’ve had a few great rivalries in this era too, like Barrera Morales, Ward Gatti but I’m sure we can all agree to forget Holyfield Ruiz. Lets just hope this rivalry
does not go to PPV. Boxing needs fights like this to promote the itself, instead of charging $50 and further alienating itself from the mainstream audiences.

Congratulations to Glenn Johnson, the new owner of the IBO Title, whatever that is.

During the post fight interview, HBO’s Larry Merchant reminded Glenn Johnson of what he said after beating Roy Jones Jr. last September quoting, “I’m not the best fighter but I want to fight the best fighters.” When asked what he says now, Johnson smiled and said, “I’m still not the best fighter but I’m still looking for Mr. Best.”

When asked how he won the fight he said simply, “With hard work.” He also said he would like to fight Tarver again and commended Tarver for being a great fighter. A year ago, only hardcore fight fans knew who Glengoffe Donovan Johnson was. Today, he’s a Star. He earned it.

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Had the IBF and WBC sanctioned this match, Johnson would now own both of those Title Belts. There are still two other pieces of the Titles out there under the banners of the WBA and WBO. All these “Alphabet Soup” organizations are not just out of sync with each other but with reality. Boxing needs to evolve and be done with them and their twisted rankings and mysterious mandatory match ups. Considering the politics of Boxing, Johnson will have to fight whoever wins his vacated IBF Title if he wants to try to unify the Titles. Maybe he will pull a Barrera and just be a “People’s Champion.”

It would be unfair to WBA Champ, Fabrice Tiozzo, or WBO Champ, Zsolt Erdei, to call Johnson the Champion of the Light Heavyweight division. A tournament involving Tarver, Tiozzo, Erdei and Johnson is the sensible way to go. The last man standing should be the only man called Champion of the 175-pound division.

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