At 42, Johnson still taking risks and seeking another shot at the top
Even the improbable is frequently explainable, as is the case with Bernard Hopkins. We know why Hopkins, 46, has defied Father Time: a combination of clean living, a maniacal work ethic and a slick, defensive style that preserved his body over the years.
Explaining Glen Johnson's longevity, however, is far more difficult. Like Hopkins, Johnson, 42, treats his body like a temple. He lives a low-key life that, for the better part of the last 22 years, has revolved around training. And there is where the similarities end.
Johnson, you see, is a brawler. He leads with his chin and follows with both fists. Whereas some aging fighters look to avoid punishment, Johnson invites it, a man perfectly willing to absorb two or three shots if it means he can deliver a few of his own.
"He's an anomaly," said Johnson's co-promoter, Lou DiBella. "That's really the only way to explain it."
There is a humbleness to Johnson. He has been to the mountaintop. He was the Fighter of the Year in 2004, posting impressive wins over Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver. He was a cable television star and collected high six-figure paydays.
Success, however, did not change him. It's why after each subsequent loss he has calmly, patiently battled back. It's why after cashing six-figure paychecks from HBO he didn't flinch at taking a $15,000 purse from ESPN. While some older fighters handpick opponents, Johnson accepts any and all challenges -- usually on someone else's turf.
"He's a hard man," DiBella said. "He fights real fights and takes crazy risks. One thing about this guy, he understands the business of the game. He knows what it takes to revive himself."
Johnson (51-14-2) will have another chance to ascend toward the top on Saturday, when he takes on WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch (27-1) in the semifinals of the Super Six tournament in Atlantic City, N.J. (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET).
Johnson's involvement in the tournament is, well, classic Johnson. Last fall, a sudden injury to Mikkel Kessler had Showtime scrambling for a replacement. When DiBella approached Johnson (a longtime light heavyweight) about dropping down to super middleweight (a division Johnson had not fought in for 10 years), Johnson jumped at the chance. He easily made the 168-pound limit and proceeded to pummel Allan Green for eight rounds to advance to the semifinal.
"I've never seen a fighter come down in weight like that after 10 years and actually look better," DiBella said. "He's just a different breed of fighter."
Against Froch, Johnson will again face an enormous challenge. Froch is younger (33) and his performance in the Super Six -- most recently a lopsided decision win over Arthur Abraham -- suggests he is just hitting his prime. Johnson calls Froch a "tall guy that really kind of fights short sometimes," someone capable of fighting several different ways.
Johnson's confidence, however, is unflappable.
"My advantage is being Glen Johnson," he said. "I think I know boxing inside and out. I'm going to go in there confident and use my skills to my potential and you'll see me come out victorious. Carl Froch is a great fighter and I have no disrespect toward him. This is a business and I'm going in there to win the fight. All the talk and all the other stuff goes out the window. This is for all the marbles so we're going in there to win the fight."
It's those last words, "for all the marbles," that are the most revealing. Johnson would not say he is on the verge of retirement but indicates that his performance against Froch will have a considerable impact on his future.
"I definitely feel a little bit of urgency for this fight," Johnson said. "I mean, I'm not getting any younger. I'm not going to take any fight for granted. I know I have a lot of skills and talent left in me and I'm looking forward to showing that to the people. I'm here to show the people what I can still do and want to walk away from this tournament being the champion. I know there are people still skeptical about what I can do at my age, but I actually get excited when people mention my age and focus on my age because that means they are not focused on my skills and what I bring to the table."
A win would advance Johnson to the Super Six final against another big-name opponent in Andre Ward. A man many thought was headed for retirement four years ago could again be called one of the best. It's a script only Johnson could write.