Boxing


Kevin Johnson - Bright Heavyweight Prospect Or Faint Hope?

23.04.08 - Paul McCreath (Hiker): For those or you who didn't get your fill of boxing this past weekend watching Calzaghe-Hopkins or Diaconu-Henry and if you are still interested in the heavyweight division chances are you took a look in at the scrap between Kevin Johnson and Terry Smith on ESPN. Judging by some of the comments on these threads after this fight I gather many are not very impressed with Kevin. Some others in these times of few top American prospects are more inclined to see him as America's best heavyweight hope behind perhaps only Chris Arreola in potential. These people were more likely to be pleased with what they saw Friday night. So where does the truth lie? Let's take a closer look..

First let us examine the stats and the facts. Kevin is 28 years old and depending on the source is either 6 foot 5 or 6 foot 3 inches tall.These numbers are never too accurate but I tend to lean to the shorter stat. He didn't look much bigger than Smith on Friday and Terry is listed at 6 foot 2. Kevin's weight has varied recently between 229 and the 243 pounds he weighed against Smith. He is not a giant but is certainly a big solid lad.

Kevin had a very limited amateur career before turning pro in Feb of 2003. He finished the unpaid part of his career at 14-2 and did win a Golden Gloves title in New Jersey. Since turning pro he has amassed a record of 19-0-1 with 6 KOs. Therein lies the problem that his detractors like to bring up. For a heavyweight of his size he has very little punching power.

In only his 4th pro fight in June of 2004 Johnson was thrown in the deep end with the well regarded prospect Timor Ibragimov who was 13-0 at the time. The result was a disputed draw over 4 rounds. Many thought that Kevin deserved the decision. Timor has not risen to great heights since then although in his last bout he defeated fringe contender Timo Hoffman. In September of that same year Kevin met the respectable Robert Wiggins, 19-3-1, and came away with the 8 round victory. 2005 was not so good.Kevin was idle except for one meaningless fight but he bounced back to activity in 2006 with 6 bouts,the best win coming against the tricky trial horse Robert Hawkins. Hawkins is the same vet who recently outpointed both Dominick Guinn and Terry Smith but he lost in 8 to Johnson.

In August of 2007 Kevin stepped up again against fellow prospect Damian Wills who was 22-1-1.The lone loss had come against Chris Arreola by KO in 7 rounds. Kevin again won an easy decision this time in 10. Last Friday night in Oklahoma we saw his latest triumph, a clear 10 round verdict over the veteran Smith. Terry had lost his last 2 fights but was 30-4-1 overall. Mixed in with the victories noted above have been the usual sprinkling of soft touches like all young fighters meet.

Now we get to the opinions. This part is tricky and will usually generate some debate. Most fans,even his detractors would agree that Kevin has a great jab and very fast hands. His personality and hand speed have been compared to Muhammad Ali although that might be a bit of a stretch. He certainly is not as mobile as Ali although he does move well for a big man. The main criticism of Kevin has been his reluctance to use anything but his jab and a general lack of power. Against Smith on Friday he did look more aggressive, throwing combinations and at least a couple of flurries. He also mixed in a few body shots. His punching while not hard is very accurate. Against Smith he landed close to 50 percent of what he threw. The power however was still absent as he does not punch with bad intentions. After watching Calzaghe's success on Saturday perhaps we should conclude that maybe that is not as important as we thought although I think as a heavyweight it could be different. I fear that against top 10 heavyweights this power shortage may prove to be a limiting factor.

We can always hope of course that the punching power will improve. While we all know that you can't change a Chris Byrd into a Sam Peter this element can be developed to some extent. Remember Tommy Hearns? As an amateur he hardly ever KO'd anybody. As a pro later he was a fearsome puncher.

I also have some concerns about Kevin's defense. While in the center of the ring he does well but he has a habit of allowing his opponent to back him into the ropes where he leans back. Smith caught him several times with good head shots. Kevin took them well, suggesting a good chin, but what happens when a harder puncher gets him in that spot? I would really like to see Johnson tested soon. As a fan I would love to see him in with other prospects like Chazz Witherspoon, Jason Estrada, or Travis Walker. If I were his manager I would be inclined to take a different route. Fighting another prospect can be risky since young guns develop at different rates. The guy you could handle in the gym last year might box circles around you today. The safer way to go would be to meet several aging former contenders. There is no shortage of them and they are more predictable because you know what they have been. Any change is likely to be in the form of a decline so they are safe opponents. The trick is to find one who will put up a good fight, make the young guy work hard, but still probably lose to your prospect. That way the young fighter learns something. Right now I think Kevin should go after fighters like Hasim Rahman,Dominick Guinn,Monte Barrett, Fres Oquendo, Evander Holyfield, or Kali Meehan.

As far as answering the question I posed at the beginning, I don't think either conclusion is accurate. Kevin Johnson falls somewhere in between a hot prospect and a faint hope. The physical tools are there to make success a possibility but there is a lot of work to be done yet and changes remain that may or may not be possible. I think Kevin has a good chance to make it into the top 10 but unless he develops more power a title belt will likely be beyond him. One thing is for sure. I am going to be watching him with interest. He is not nearly as dull to watch now as he was earlier in his career and we can always use another good heavyweight. He will probably never be an exciting, crowd pleasing fighter, but neither were Chris Byrd and John Ruiz yet both had long successful careers and Kevin is improving. What do you think?

Article posted on 23.04.2008



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