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Kirk Johnson


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For a while, Kirk Johnson was slated to be the next heavyweight world champion. He certainly possessed the boxing skills and the punching power, if not always the stamina or conditioning, to make some serious noise in the division of the early 2000's. After knocking out some better contenders and decisioning one, he was matched for the WBA title against John Ruiz, but unfortunately, it degenerated into an ugly and dirty fight and eventually ended with Johnson being disqualified. Soon thereafter he experienced weight problems and after one more significant victory, he was easily blown out in 2 by Vitali Klitschko. This is the story of Kirk Johnson, so far Canada's last heavyweight of note.


Born Kirk Cyron Johnson, 29 June 1972 in North Preston, Nova Scotia, Johnson was a noted amateur, winning the 1989 amateur world junior championships in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and finishing second in the same championship in 1990 in Lima, Peru. Johnson also qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and made his way to the quarter-finals, where he lost on points to silver-medallist David Izon. Johnson turned pro in April 1993 and won by a TKO3 in his first fight. Standing 6'2, with an 81-inch reach and very strong build, Johnson steamrolled over most of his early opponents, exceptions being the tough trialhorse Ross Purritty (UD6) and later Danell Nicholson (UD10). Nicholson was down three times however. His first blemish was a draw against the tall (6'4) Al Cole, a very clever fighter. It was 8 December 1998 when the two fought to a draw in a 10-rounder. Johnson buckled Cole's legs at the end of the first round and landed more clean shots, but also got three points deducted for low blows, showing for the first time he had a bad habit of throwing them. The two met in the ring again 20 March next year and this time Johnson was triumphant by a 10-round unanimous decision. His next notable victory was against Oleg Maskaev from Uzbekistan, who was a strong and capable fighter, rising in the ranks at the time. It was 7 October 2000 at Mohegan Sun Casino when Johnson was first hurt by a straight right from Maskaev in the first round, before rallying back in the fourth and first dropping Maskaev with a left hook. As Maskaev beat the count, he was hit by three big left hooks and knocked out of the ring. The fight was for the PABA title, to make Johnson's triumph even bigger.


He repeated the same achievement in his next fight against journeyman Derrick Banks, knocking him out of the ring with two left uppercuts, this time in the first round. Johnson was now rated at nr.1 by WBA and he then faced the other top ranked fighter, Larry Donald, in an eliminator for the title fight. It was 7 July 2001 when Johnson decisioned Donald and won convincingly by a UD12. It took however another year before the new WBA champion, "Quietman" John Ruiz, gave him his shot. It was 27 July 2002 at Mandalay Bay and turned out to be a fight both guys would rather forget. Ruiz was infamous for his ugly style of fighting, clinching a lot and liking to rough up his opponents on the inside. Given that and Johnson's own penchant for hitting low, it was a perfect recipe for a really dirty and ugly fight. Joe Cortez took away 2 points from Johnson already in the second round. In round 4, Johnson again landed a low blow and Cortez gave Ruiz a chance to recover. As he did, he charged at Johnson, forcing him to the ropes and started headbutting him. It was more of a wrestling than a boxing match, in other words. Johnson stayed away from exchanging and wrestling in the next two rounds and boxed smart. But in the seventh, he grew impatient, as he later said "I knew I could knock him out with a body shot", but he again landed a low blow and got another point taken away. He won the eight round, but in the ninth he ran into a right hand from Ruiz and was wobbled. He grabbed onto Ruiz who shoved him to the canvas. Later in the round, Johnson who was still reeling was sent down by another right hand, just before the bell sounded. He recovered as he came out for the tenth, but then again landed another low blow, after which Cortez disqualified him, at 2 minutes 27 seconds of round 10.


Sportswriter Michael Katz called it one of the ugliest heavyweight title fights he ever saw. It was a serious blow to the career of 30-yearold Johnson and sadly turned out to be his only world title fight. He made his last hoorah when he knocked out the 6'5 Lou Savarese, back then considered a very big heavyweight but somewhat slow and overrated, in 4 rounds on 15 March 2003. Johnson knocked him down with a left uppercut after dominating the fight all the way and Savarese was unable to beat the count. Fight was aired on Fox Sports. As Savarese was still a rated contender, it brought Johnson a showdown against Vitali Klitschko, who was coming off a cuts stoppage loss against Lennox Lewis, in a fight he was winning. The 6'8 Klitschko towered above Johnson at 6 inches differences and his long arms and unorthodox style meant he was a tough opponent for anyone, as well as his iron chin. It was 6 December at Madison Square Garden and the fight was an eliminator for the WBC title fight. Johnson came in weighing at his heaviest ever, 260 pounds, which for his 6'2 frame was a lot. Naturally, he performed poorly and was easily clubbed into submission in 2 rounds by the giant Ukrainian, ending his hopes of another world title shot. "He was the better man", said Johnson after the fight,"I had a sluggish night against a man you can't afford to have a sluggish night against."


Johnson had a few more fights after that, stopping Gilbert Martinez in 8 and Yanqui Diaz (who knocked out then-undefeated Juan Carlos Gomez in one round previously) by a technical decision in 5, before his 2006 fight against Javier Mora ended as a no contest after Johnson suffered a dislocated knee in round 7. He was absent from the ring after that, until returning in 2010 for one fight against a bum fighter called Douglas Robertson and easily winning by TKO1, 29 April in Fort Worth. His record is 37 wins, 27 by ko, 2 losses and 1 draw. Johnson was trained by George Benton and promoted by Bob Arum. He was supposed to fight Lennox Lewis in 2003 but had to cancel it because of an injury. He was also involved in a legal battle against Halifax police, who pulled him over 28 times there, which Johnson felt was due to him being black.


Kirk Johnson was definitely one of the most talented heavyweights of his era, but his problems with controlling his blows and eventually weight problems forced his career on a downward slope. He also has had his share of injuries which further hampered him. He was a complete package, but in the generation change of the early 21st century heavyweights, he would have been too short and too slow to compete with the emerging Klitschko brothers, as well as some other faster and more nimble champions like Ruslan Chagaev and Sultan Ibragimov.

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