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Mark Too Sharp Johnson


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Mark Johnson was the first African-American to become a world champion at flyweight and also won world titles at super flyweight and bantamweight, defeating some excellent fighters such as Fernando Montiel, his brother Alejandro, Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, Alberto Jimenez, Francisco Tejedor, Josue Camacho and Arthur Johnson. His career was first derailed by two back to back losses to Rafael Marquez, first one controversial.

A native of Washington DC, Johnson was born 13 August 1971, by the name of Marcellus Joseph Johnson. His father Abraham was a boxing coach and started training his son when he was five. Mark grew to be 5’3 (160 cm) tall and had an identical reach. He started competing as amateur and in 1988 he reached the national Olympic finals, losing to Eric Griffin. That year he won the national Golden Gloves and next year also the national ABF championship. He turned pro in February 1990, aged 18. He won his first fight by KO3 but lost the second to Richie Wenton of Liverpool, a four round decision. He then reeled off 12 straight wins, mostly by knockout, before he fought the future WBO flyweight champion, Alberto Jimenez, 17 May 1993 in Inglewood, and beat him by SD12. On 15 July 1995, he beat Josue Camacho, former WBO light flyweight champion, and stopped him by TKO8. 

That same year, he got arrested for cocaine possession but got released soon, on a suspended sentence. On 4 May 1996, he faced Francisco Tejedor (43-4-1 at the time) for the IBF title at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim and knocked him out in 1 minute and 35 seconds to become the first African American flyweight world champion. He made seven defenses, among others beating Alejandro Montiel by UD and Arthur Johnson by another KO1. He vacated the belt in April 1999 to compete at super flyweight and then immediately got a chance to win the IBF title there, which was vacant, against Ratanachai Sor Vorapin of Thailand. The fight took place 24 April at MCI Center in Johnson’s hometown DC and after 12 rounds, Too Sharp was proclaimed the winner by the scores of 118-109, 117-110 and 116-110. His reign here would be shorter. He made two defenses only and both ended unusually; first against Jorge Lacierva, the fight went to the scorecards in the ninth round because of a cut and Johnson won clearly on all three. His second defense against Raul Juarez ended after four rounds, after Johnson hit Juarez with a retaliatory low blow and Juarez, who had thrown several low blows before that, could not continue-the result was a no contest. 

In October of 1999, Johnson was arrested for punching his wife and breaking her jaw. The police also found marijuana on him, which violated his probation, and he did 11 months behind bars and his title was stripped for inactivity in 2000. He came back to the ring on 8 June 2001, now a bantamweight, and beat Sergio Perez by UD10. After also stopping Arturo Valenzuela by TKO6 in July, on 6 October he was matched against a new star on the rise, Rafael Marquez. In a somewhat controversial fight, Johnson looked better in the first half, but also got two points deducted for holding. In the end, he was at first proclaimed the winner by split decision, but then an error was discovered and it turned out Marquez was in fact the winner and Too Sharp lost his first fight since 1990. Because of the controversy, a rematch was issued, this time with the vacant IBF USBA title at stake. It was held on 23 February 2002 at Mandalay Bay and Marquez was more dominant this time, but the fight was competitive going into the end of round 7, when Marquez first dropped Johnson with a straight right, the first knockdown of Too Sharp’s career. He looked hurt and in the next round he looked ok until he got hit with two body shots and then a follow up right to the head which sent him down again. He got up but shortly thereafter he was hit with another hard right and down he went again and referee Rudy Battle waved it off.

After such a devastating defeat, few would’ve thought he had much left to give or show, but Too Sharp proved everybody wrong. After a tune up fight in June 2003, he landed a big fight versus the 27-0 Mexican star and WBO super flyweight champion, Fernando Montiel. Montiel had also been a flyweight WBO champion and was a quality fighter, a boxer-puncher. The fight was at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, 16 August 2003, only 3 days after Johnson’s 32nd birthday. He managed to outbox “Cochulito” enough to be given a majority decision and took his zero away. He would make one successful defense by knocking out the 41-1 Luis Bolano of Colombia in just 4 rounds, on 6 March 2004. After winning one non title fight, he lost his title to the 17-0-1 Mexican underdog Ivan Hernandez, who scored a big upset when he put him down twice in round 8 to win by KO. He would have one more fight against then-WBO bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez, but since Too Sharp couldn’t make the weight, that title wasn’t on the line. It happened 25 February 2006 at Mandalay Bay and by now, it was clear Johnson was far from his old self. Gonzalez carried him for 7 rounds and then knocked him out in the 8th.

His final record is 44 wins, 28 by ko, 5 losses and 1 no contest. Mark Johnson was famous for his reflexes, speed, power (especially at flyweight), his boxing IQ and willingness to brawl. His career was however hindered by the lack of interest in the fly divisions and also those brushes with the law. He still had longevity and fought for altogether 16 years (almost exactly) and made a big upset against a future great when everybody considered him washed up. In 2012, he was inducted into IBHOF. One might say he also possessed one of the better boxing aliases. He was too sharp but also too smooth.


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22 hours ago, LondonRingRules said:

- - Boz, Rafael was the better boxer and more exciting of the Marquez bros, BALCO Juan being more of a counter punching plodder. 

Yeah, for a little feller Too Sharp did all right for all the out of ring distractions.

Yeah, his bro may have had a longer and more coveted career but Rafa was FIRE 🔥! True, so true. He destroyed a fine fighter as Too Sharp, still in his good days. Amazing victory and achievement. 

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That Ivan Hernandez fight was weird. First, Too Sharp hurts him in the sixth but can’t finish him off. Then in the seventh, Hernandez produces a big long right out of nowhere to floor Too Sharp and in the eight, they trade wildly and then…you can’t see it well, but it seems he got hit with a body shot while standing against the ropes and that’s it. “Choko” Hernandez then gets ktfo by Montiel in his first defense and loses all his other important fights, making him a “one fight wonder”.

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