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‘Sweet’ Reggie Johnson Interview Part I
By Boxing Reporter and Writer Chris Cercola
On August 28, 1966, Reggie Johnson was born into one of the most violent cities in America, Houston Texas’ 5th Ward. He was introduced to the sport of boxing at the age of twelve by an uncle and he fell in love with it immediately. It didn’t take long to impress anyone who was seeing him for the first time. The talented south paw had undeniable talent, winning nationally as well as winning all of his six international fights, Reggie turned pro after missing out on the Olympics, compiling a final amateur record of 96-12.
Reggie turned pro on August 14, 1984 and the smooth boxer won his first six fights before dropping a decision to a more experienced professional fighter by the name of Adam George. Reggie wouldn`t let that discourage him and he went unbeaten in his next 24 fights going 23-0-1. During that run, he relocated to the west coast, and there, he captured the WBA Inter-Continental Middleweight Championship with a 12 round unanimous decision against Israel Cole. Reggie then added the NABF Middleweight Championship with an eleventh round TKO over Ismael Negron in Vegas. He defended that title with a decision win over tough Sanderline Williams. He scored a TKO over the experienced Greg Dickson and got off the floor to stop notorious spoiler, Eddie Hall. Soon after that, the number one ranked contender would get his first world title shot.
On June 29, 1991 Reggie would get his shot against the new IBF Middle Weight Champion, James ‘Lights Out’ Toney. Despite dropping the champion, Toney got up and won by a controversial split decision. Not one to be discouraged, Reggie got right back to it and ten months later he`d get his second shot at a world title. This time it would be for the vacant WBA version of the Middleweight Championship against Ireland’s Steve Collins. Winning a 12 round majority decision, Reggie Johnson fulfilled a dream. After successfully defending the championship two times, once against the dangerous, hard hitting Lamar Parks by unanimous decision. Reggie lost his title to undefeated fellow American John David Jackson by a controversial decision in Argentina. A couple of fights later, Reggie was back in Argentina to face local guy Jorge Castro, losing by a controversial split decision. After losing by another controversial split decision to Castro in Argentina, Reggie took an almost two year hiatus before resurfacing as a light heavyweight and test his luck with the big boys.
And on February 6, 1998 , Reggie took on the young, strong, unbeaten, IBF Light Heavyweight Champion, William Guthrie. After a one sided fifth round knockout, Guthrie left the ring on a stretcher. Johnson made a statement at 175 pounds. After defending that title twice, both by unanimous decisions to Ole Klemetsen and Will Taylor, Reggie would meet long-time friend and pound for pound king, Roy Jones Jr. to unify their Light Heavyweight Titles and settle who the king is at 175 pounds. After a tough 12 rounds with the then prime Jones Jr., Reggie fought three more times, winning three more unanimous decisions and the NABF and USBA Championships along the way.
‘Sweet’ Reggie would defend those titles against Antonio Tarver on January 25, 2002. After a tough 12 rounds, and fighting with a busted ear drum for the last nine rounds, Reggie was on the losing end of a split decision. He’d go away for over three and a half years, resurface to face Fred Moore only to go away for another two and a half years and win a split decision over future WBO Light Heavyweight Champion, Julio Gonzalez with a torn rotator cuff…
After the Gonzalez fight, Johnson would fight the biggest fight of his life when he was arrested, accused of being the architect of a Ponzi scheme, he was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He maintained his innocence and fought the system. Now, after less than four years, he`s a free man and even though he can’t speak about the case too much yet, He opened up as much as he could to RealCombatMedia.com in March, 2012.
I grew up in The 5th Ward… Houston Texas, the same place that George Foreman was raised from the age of 13 or 14 he moved there, but he`s originally from Marshall. It`s coming from the bottom. Lots of kids will have the same story as I have man. You come from the bottom and just work your way up and stay focused and not getting caught up in the drugs and the gangs and the whole environment. I can honestly say that from the age of twelve, boxing pretty much probably saved my life. I never got in trouble as a kid, my whole thing was, I started boxing at the age of twelve so it kept me out of trouble.
My uncle, Kenneth Walker was boxing for the Salvation Army Boys Club, and he took me with him one day and they put a pair of gloves on me and man, it came like second nature to me, and that day, I had known that I had found my niche. My uncle also introduced me to the man that would be my mentor, Mr. James Carter.
I won all my international fights. My first tour with the U.S Boxing team was the Scandinavian Tour, I won two fights on that tour, and then the second tour was The King`s Cup, and I won 4 fights there in Bangkok. I was the youngest guy ever to win that at 16. That was a pretty prestigious environment, it’s sort of like the Pan-Am Games…Had like 30 different countries in it, and I won that at the age of 16.
Missing The Olympics, I was so disappointed to the point that after that fight I run up into the stands all the way by myself and cried like a baby. Those days were nice man, we like to call them the glory days…Me and the guys were just talking about that. We worked so hard for something, and that was my first time feeling that feeling like, I’ve arrived, you know, I`ve accomplished something big! I been gone for a while, but since I got back, ya know Facebook, then the thing was MySpace…But since I been on this Facebook ya know, I been connecting with a lot of the guys.
I remember I won my first pro fight. I fought a guy named Henderson and beat him in a four round decision in Pasadena, at the Convention Center.
I lost my first eight round fight. Adam Jones came from a fighting family, but the thing was, I was so worried about being able to go the eight rounds. It was a close fight and when the fight was over, I was upset, I just sat there and I noticed, man, I got all this energy to burn, ya know what I`m saying, I could have used this energy to beat him.
Pasadena was a new start man…I think I did all I can do in this area, and I hadn`t fought in a long time, and my manager, who`s still a good friend of mine, and he`s still an advisor to me, Bob Jordan. I hadn`t gotten any fights and he gave me an opportunity to go to California and I just left. Bill Benton, he owns a gym down here in Houston and he deal with a lot of fighters and knows a lot of the big promoters, he was Ken Norton`s trainer and manager, and he was a guy who set that up for me. I was in the gym one day, and he said, “Listen, I know this guy who got a gym and fighters who are solid fighters from there, he`s called Carl Demay, he got a guy named Alberto Davila down there training, a guy named Manuel ‘Chapo’ Robles, and an old guy named Mr. Demay is the guy with all the money that started a boxing stable, you want me to tell them about you?”, I said “Yea!”, A couple of weeks went by and I asked Bill at the gym, I said “Bill, what happened with those people from California?”, and he said, “I didn`t even have time to call them, I’m gonna call ‘em tonight and I’ll have something new tomorrow.” So he come back the next day, and he said, “Listen, they want to know, when do you want to come down there”, and I said, “Well I`m ready to go right now” , so I remember I went down there and stayed like a week down there, and I remember we trained at the 108th gym right in the middle of Watts California. It was an old gym, and you go upstairs, and all the fighters hang out in the gym.
I remember working out there and sparring, and they had this one guy there named Antoine Byrd, he fought Roy Jones, and he was 168 He was the baddest guy in the gym, so the whole gym was just shut down. Everybody just stopped training to watch us spar, and I think on the fifth day, I had pretty much figured him out, and I think I knocked him out with a body shot. Everybody in the gym saw it, and I`ll never forget this, that Friday, Mr. Demay had lived up in Northern California, he flew to L.A. just to watch me work out, and I`ll never forget, he took me into one of the rooms, and he asked me, “Well what is it gonna take for us to sign you?”, and I said “Well…”,and he out-quicked me, he went out and he got a pad and a pen, and he gave it to me, and he said “Just take your time, and write everything down, what it`s gonna take” And when I gave him the pad, he just looked at it and said “Done”, and the rest is history! I remember I was living in a one bedroom apartment, I came back to Houston, put everything in storage, and went to L.A. and when I came back home, like 14 months later, I was number one by the IBF., number one by the WBC, and number two by the WBA, in 14 months!
I know in my heart to this day that I won the fight with James Toney, and I think deep down inside, Toney know it. I remember that fight, when I watched a tape of that fight, I`ll never forget this name for the rest of my life, Patricia Jarman, she was one of the judges, I think she got married, so I think it`s Patricia Jarman something else now, but anyway, I was watching the tape, and I seen her leaning over and Bob Arum was talking to her during the fight, and come to find out, she had me like four points behind going into the last round. That fight really crushed me but it made me a better fighter ‘cause I know I won that fight. James Toney became a better fighter after that, he became more crafty, and as he moved up in weight, he became a better puncher, but you can ask people the same thing about me as I moved up in weight I became a better puncher.
Stay tuned for part two as Reggie talks about his fights with Lamar Parks, Irishman Stevie Collins, John David Jackson, and so much more.
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