Johnson unfazed by road, buddy Bute
Glen Johnson has never been boxing's most talented fighter. He knows it and has never had a problem saying so. After his stunning knockout of Roy Jones Jr. in 2004, he even famously said in his postfight interview with HBO's Larry Merchant, "I'm not the best, I'm just the guy who's willing to fight the best."
And he has been doing it for years, usually on his opponent's turf: Jones, Antonio Tarver (twice), Bernard Hopkins, Sven Ottke, Julio Gonzalez, Clinton Woods (three times), Montell Griffin, Chad Dawson (twice), Tavoris Cloud, Allan Green and, most recently, Carl Froch in the Super Six World Boxing Classic semifinals in June.
Johnson has won some and lost some and been robbed in some. But the former light heavyweight champion has always given a supreme effort, one of the many attributes that has endeared him to fight fans.
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Once again, Johnson will climb into the ring to fight one of the best, in this case super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT). And once again, Johnson, aptly nicknamed "The Road Warrior," will face Bute (29-0, 24 KOs) on his turf at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Canada.
That's old hat to Johnson. For example, he fought Woods in England all three times. He faced Ottke in Germany. He fought Dawson in Hartford, Conn.
"His nickname fits him perfectly," said Lou DiBella, who co-promotes Johnson with Leon Margules. "He says a fight's a fight no matter where it happens. Glen doesn't care where it is. He would fight a guy in that guy's mother's bedroom.
"And he is the consummate warrior, like Micky Ward or Arturo Gatti. What he has in his body, he will lay it out there. That is why he can compete with guys young enough to be his kid. There are very few fighters liked in the business by the fans and his peers, as Glen Johnson is, because he is humble and you know you will get an honest effort. Ask Carl Froch or Tavoris Cloud if they respect Glen Johnson. Ask anyone who has ever been in the ring with him."
Said Johnson: "I am aware it's a huge challenge to fight Bute in Quebec City, but I'm looking forward to the fight. I can't wait. I can't lose my next fight with Bute. I'm the one who needs the victory the most. It's a do-or-die situation for me."
Although Johnson (51-15-2, 35 KOs) has seemed ageless, he is 42 and is 4-4 in his past eight bouts -- although each defeat was competitive. He seemed reborn last year when he dropped down from light heavyweight to super middleweight after being invited to take the place of injured Mikkel Kessler in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic.
In Johnson's two fights since returning to the 168-pound division (where he hadn't fought for a decade), Johnson put on a strong performance in an eight-round knockout win of Green and then lost a spirited majority decision to Froch in the semifinals. It was a good enough performance to keep Johnson at the forefront of the super middleweight division.
After the loss to Froch, however, Johnson's next move was unclear because he was, by no means, the first choice to fight Bute. InterBox promoter Jean Bedard, who promotes Bute, first tried to match his fighter with Kessler, who ultimately turned down the deal in favor of a fight with titlist Robert Stieglitz.
Then former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was offered the Bute fight and his promoter, Top Rank, made a deal with Bedard. But Pavlik, unhappy with the $1.35 million offer, snubbed it.
That left Bedard and Showtime to call on old reliable, Johnson, who didn't hesitate to take the fight -- and for about $1 million less than Pavlik was offered.
Johnson badly wanted the fight. When DiBella and Margules were negotiating with Bedard, they were holding out for an extra $75,000, or at least $50,000. But Johnson didn't want them to blow the deal.
"When we were hemming and hawing to try to get him a few extra bucks, he finally told us to stop because he wanted the fight," DiBella said. "He said, 'I want this fight more than I want $75,000 or $50,000 more. Don't blow the fight. I want to rumble with him.' So we called Bedard back and closed the deal."
Bute, 31, who will be making his ninth title defense, said he was glad to wind up with Johnson as his opponent.
"As you know, we made several offers [to other fighters]," he said. "I don't know why they turned it down. It's hard for me to say why. What I know is, I have no control on their decision. Unfortunately, they would have been great fights. But at the end of the day, I'm very happy that we ended up with Glen Johnson. I believe that he will make things very interesting.
"Glen Johnson has seen almost everything in boxing. He's always there and he's always in great condition. He's faced all the great boxers -- Jones, Tarver, Dawson twice. He even fought Hopkins in the beginning, and he looked good even if he lost it. I can say, by far, that he is the best opponent with the best credibility. His résumé speaks for itself, so for me it's a major step up."
And Bute and Johnson are familiar with each other in the ring. In 2009, when Johnson was getting ready for his rematch with Dawson, Bute -- a southpaw -- was training for a rematch with Librado Andrade in the same South Florida training camp. They became fast friends and estimate they sparred nearly 100 rounds together.
"I think from the two of us, I gained the most in that sparring," Johnson said. "I came there and built my confidence. It was hard sparring, we wanted to win every day. It was competitive, it was great and I think I improved and proved my confidence after sparring with Glen Johnson.
"It was great work. Both of us accomplished our goal. We were doing hard work and I believe both of us got better."
His nickname fits him perfectly. He says a fight's a fight no matter where it happens. Glen doesn't care where it is. He would fight a guy in that guy's mother's bedroom.” -- Promoter Lou DiBella on his fighter, Glen "The Road Warrior" Johnson, who will face Canada's Lucian Bute in Quebec City on Saturday
Said Bute: "We know that sparring is always different than a real fight."
Both say that their friendship will not hinder the fight.
"I have a lot of respect for Lucian, but you're fighting for your career, you're fighting for everything here," Johnson said. "I'm going to go out there and give it my all and resume our friendship later. But I've got to go out there and do what I need to do to win the fight."
Said Bute: "We've got mutual respect for each other. Also our team respects his team. I really cheered for him when he fought Allan Green and also when he fought Carl Froch. But with this, my career is on the line. It has nothing to do with respect or the friendship. If I have to fight, I'm going to give it my all. There are no friends in the ring. We're going to be friends after the bout. They can't take away what I've been working for."
DiBella is honest in his assessment of Johnson's chances and not making any bold predictions.
"I can't tell you he will win, but if Bute isn't on his game, he's in trouble," DiBella said. "I don't think Bute is walking into that ring expecting an easy fight. He knows how tough Glen is from sparring. Maybe it ends Saturday night for Glen. My heart wants to outthink my brain, but I know what he's up against. But I also know this: If he goes down, he will not go down without a fight and Bute will wake up Sunday knowing he was in a real fight."
DiBella will be there ringside rooting for Johnson, but not just because of his professional obligation. He'll be there because of his respect for Johnson as a person and as a fighter.
"I don't know a more loyal guy or a guy who has more gratitude," DiBella said. "He's a man's man in every way. I love Glen Johnson. Leon loves Glen Johnson. He has been with his manager [Henry Foster] for years and years, and he loves him. We all know what he is up against. Glen knows it, too. But he wants to be remembered as 'The Road Warrior' and as a guy who never walked away from a challenge. He'll say, 'I lost a lot of fights, but I also won a lot of fights and I kicked a lot of guys' asses.' His thing has always been, 'Anybody, any time, any place.' If there were more young guys with the attitude of Glen Johnson, the sport would be a lot healthier."
For his part, Johnson doesn't want to hear anything about the possibility of losing.
"We're in it to win it. We're not about just competing," he said. "We're in it to win it."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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