Glen Johnson to face George Groves

Updated: October 24, 2012, 12:09 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

After former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson lost a clear 10-round decision to Andrzej Fonfara on July 13 in the main event of an ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" card, the former fighter of the year announced his retirement.

At 43 years old and having lost three fights in a row and five of his last seven, Johnson said if he could not beat a second-tier opponent such as Fonfara, what was the point of continuing to fight?

The retirement didn't last long. Johnson has agreed to face rising British super middleweight contender George Groves on Dec. 15.

Johnson (51-17-2, 35 KOs), a native of Jamaica who has lived for years in Miami, will travel to London's Excel Arena to challenge Groves for his Commonwealth super middleweight belt.

Lightweight titlist Ricky Burns of Scotland will make his third defense in the main event against Liam Walsh, whom promoter Frank Warren announced as the opponent on Tuesday.

"I was quitting on myself when I made that announcement," Johnson told ESPN.com. "When I made the announcement, I felt like it was legitimate announcement. But I've felt good the past few months and I was quitting on myself based on my personal issues I was going through.

"I feel differently now. I would love an opportunity to see if I can still fight the way I feel like I can. If I don't step in the ring and give it a shot I won't know, so I want to step in the ring and give it a shot."

Warren announced the fight before Johnson and his team made a deal, but now they say they have now agreed to terms, even though the contract has not been signed yet.

"It's a very tough fight for George," Warren said. "Johnson has been around, seen it and done it in a near 20-year career so he'll have bags of experience compared to George. But George is young, fresh, talented and hungry and really wants to prove that he's the next world champion in waiting. I think that the fans will be for a cracking fight between these two."

Johnson said he should not have announced his retirement just moments after a tough loss.

"I was going through some personal issues and a lot things weren't working and I shouldn't have made a decision like that," said Johnson, the 2004 fighter of the year. "After some time to think about it, I went to the gym to shake out. I was doing gym work and feeling good. I felt like I would like another opportunity.

"I would like the chance to go out there and convince myself that the things I've been working on, and the things I've been missing the past couple of years, are there. I believe there are changes I need to make in my style to get back to where I want to be. I want to take that chance."

Groves (15-0, 12 KOs), 24, is anxious to fight after having fought just once this year. He had withdrawn from two other fights because of injuries.

A back problem forced him out of a mandatory shot at then-super middleweight world titleholder Robert Stieglitz in May. Then Groves was supposed to face Kenny Anderson in a rematch on Sept. 14, but pulled out after suffering a bad cut over his right eye in a sixth-round knockout win against Francisco Sierra in San Jose, Calif., on July 28 on the Robert Guerrero-Selcuk Aydin undercard.

Now Groves is healthy and aiming to etch Johnson's name onto his record.

"Johnson is a great name and it will be a fantastic fight to end the year with before looking at a world title shot next year," Groves said. "He's a true warrior and will come to fight and in no way am I expecting an easy night's work against him. I'll be training my guts out for this fight and it could turn into a brutal and bloody war, one that the fans will relish.

"He's had 70 fights with 35 knockouts and is a massive step up for me in just my 16th fight. A win against him would be great on my record."

Said Johnson, "This is a young guy. They have a lot of hopes for him and the boxing public is keeping an eye on this guy, so if I go in his hometown and do what I think I can do to him, it will make me feel I can still do the things I think I can do."

Johnson is known to the British public. He went the distance in a loss to super middleweight titlist Carl Froch of England in June in the semifinals of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. He also fought in England three times in light heavyweight title bouts against Clinton Woods between 2003 and 2006.

"The man is like a tank coming forward all the time and I'll need to pull out some big bombs if I'm going to stop him," Groves said. "Top men like Froch and (Chad) Dawson, plus Antonio Tarver and Clinton Woods couldn't halt him so it's a tall order. But I'm confident in my abilities and if I can be the first since (Bernard) Hopkins (in 1997) to stop him then it will send a strong message out to the 168-pound world champions that I'm coming for them."

Burns (35-2, 10 KOs), 29, who also held a junior lightweight world title before moving up in weight and winning a lightweight belt, is coming off perhaps the finest performance of his career, a fourth-round knockout of England's Kevin Mitchell, one of his good pals, to retain his title Sept. 22.

"Walsh is a good, strong fighter, he's unbeaten and this is his big chance to win the world title," Burns said. "I'll be in the best shape possible and will leave nothing to chance for this one. The big motivator is a (potential) showdown with (American Adrien) Broner, who I was accused of avoiding last year. Since moving up to lightweight and winning the world title, my stock and profile have increased and now that it's a unification fight it's a much bigger fight than before."

Broner would have to defeat titleholder Antonio DeMarco on Nov. 17 and then the promoters would have to make a deal to match Burns and Broner.

Walsh (13-0, 10 KOs), 26, of England, will be taking a major step up in competition, but said he is ready for it.

"To fight for the world title is my dream and I'm going to cause a big upset on Dec. 15 at the Excel when I take the crown from Burns," Walsh said. "It's always been on my mind that I would fight him one day and it's now here. He's a great champion. I've studied and watched him throughout his career and I know I've got the tools to beat him.

"He's looked great in the last few years and he did a stunning job on Mitchell. He's in the prime of his career now, so when I beat him people will know that I've beaten the best."

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