On boxing: Road Warrior ready to make a run

For two consecutive weekends beginning April 12, just about all of the big names in the light heavyweight division will be facing off in what amounts to a de facto elimination tournament and perhaps nobody is as happy about it as Glen "The Road Warrior" Johnson.

"I like what's going on," Johnson said Sunday from his home in Miami. "All of the top guys are finally fighting each other. It's going to shuffle things around and show who deserves to be on top."

The 39-year-old Johnson, 47-11-2 with 32 knockouts, will face WBC light heavyweight titlist "Bad" Chad Dawson, 25-0 (17), of New Haven, Conn., in a Showtime-televised bout at St. Pete Times Square, in Tampa, Fla.

Also on the card, which will be shown at 9 p.m. on tape delay, is IBF beltholder Clinton Woods, 41-3-1 (24), who will defend his title against former undisputed light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, 26-4 (19).

On April 19, in an HBO-televised bout from Las Vegas, recognized light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, 48-4-1 (32) with 1 no contest, will meet Joe Calzaghe, 44-0 (32). Calzaghe will be stepping up from 168 pounds, where he is recognized as the No. 1 super middleweight in the world and has defended his belt a division-tying record 21 times.

For Johnson, who was named Fighter of the Year in 2004 after beating Woods for the IBF title, knocking out Roy Jones Jr. and defeating Tarver for the linear championship, it's a chance to once again make a run at the No.1 slot at 175 pounds.

"It's been a slow comeback," said Johnson, who lost the rematch to Tarver in 2005 as well as a split decision in his third fight with Woods in 2006. "The guys on top are getting the opportunity to ride the wave. They're not taking on the real challengers out there."

To better illustrate Johnson's point, one can point to Dawson's most recent challengers. Dawson stopped Epifanio Mendoza in four rounds in September and Jesus Ruiz in six in June.

Johnson's trainer, Orlando Cuellar, said even though the so-called experts will automatically cite Dawson's youth and undefeated record in favoring him to beat Johnson, the younger fighter will in fact be in over his head.

"Dawson has never been in this kind of firefight," said the Cuban-born Cuellar, who began working with the Jamaican-born Johnson just before the Road Warrior began his run with a 12-round victory over Eric Harding for the USBA belt in 2003. "A young fighter doesn't have the same high powers as an older fighter.

"Glen is way more mature. His experience is better. He's focused and has always found a way to win. And Dawson's chin is suspect. Don't be fooled by Dawson's age and undefeated record. He knows it's coming."

The left-handed Dawson also owns a victory over Harding, but was dropped in the first round of their 2005 fight and was also sent to the canvas against Tomasz Adamek, whom he defeated for the WBC belt in February 2007.

Johnson also feels his experience should be considered a plus, rather than his age a disadvantage.

"I've been on the road. I've fought against pretty much everybody from middleweight to light heavyweight," Johnson said. "The names I've been in the ring with - that shows that I'm not afraid to fight."

Johnson began his professional career in 1993 and ran off a string off 32 consecutive victories before challenging Hopkins for his IBF middleweight belt, but "The Executioner" scored an 11th-round knockout in 1997.

"Hopkins is the only guy to beat me convincingly," Johnson said.

Not to be deterred, Johnson worked his way up the super middleweight rankings before unsuccessfully challenging Sven Ottke for his IBF belt in 1999.

After beating Harding, Johnson could manage only a draw with Woods in their first encounter in 2003 before finally breaking through in the rematch in '04 and subsequently stopping Jones and edging Tarver in their first match.

Tarver won their rematch in 2005 and Woods retained his belt via split decision in the pair's third fight in 2006. The latter bout took place in England, Woods' home country.

"This fight was the closest, but clearly I was the winner all three times," Johnson said. "Once you see a split decision in a foreign country, you know the guy visiting won the bout."

Johnson, who credits his youthful body to clean living and possessing no vices, said his motivation to continue fighting stems from the fact that he is still on top of his game.

"I get in the ring, see what's going on and capitalize on it," Johnson said of the thrill he still gets when competing. "I like to beat a guy down and come out victorious at the end of the night. I think that's my strong suit.

"You can watch all the film you want, but unless you put it into use, it's useless. My biggest upside is to be able to get in the ring and make split-second decisions."

With a shot at a long-awaited rematch against Hopkins, a possible bout with Calzaghe and maybe another fight with Woods or Tarver hanging in the balance, Johnson said he's ready to get through Dawson first.

"I've seen films. He's a talented fighter," Johnson said of his young opponent. "I'm looking forward to challenging him. I definitely see myself victorious. It could be a knockout, it could be a decision, but either way I see myself victorious."

One of the quietest and most easy-going fighters in the sport, Johnson is humble yet confident - and realistic.

"If I want to separate myself and be the man in the light heavyweight division, which I am, I need to clear myself from these guys," Johnson said. "One win, one loss and a draw with Woods is not separating myself. One win and one loss with Tarver is not separating myself."

But with one win over Dawson, this old warrior would be back on the right road.


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