Undisputed Underdog

At 40, Glen Johnson is still fighting for respect

For the main event, Aaron Norwood enters the ring with just a trainer. He wears a gray hooded sweatshirt cut off at the sleeves. His teeth are slightly crooked, and he doesn't look at the audience. At the news conference a day before the fight, Norwood told reporters that he wasn't scared of Johnson. In a strong Mississippi accent, he said: "I know lots of guys are afraid of him." His eyes were open wide as he spoke, like a child trying to convince Santa Claus he's been good. "I know lots of guys duck him and've been duckin' him for years. But I'm not that kind of fighter. They can put me in there with anyone. I ain't scared."

Johnson enters the ring to reggae music. He wears a slick white boxing robe that matches his trunks. To the small crowd at the Hard Rock, the man who clocked Jones and Tarver and should've beaten Dawson is a hero.

Jillian is seated ringside, looking stoic. She doesn't get nervous at fights anymore.

Glen Johnson hits the gym six days a week. He's fighting to feed his family.
C. Stiles
Glen Johnson hits the gym six days a week. He's fighting to feed his family.
As Johnson cools down after a day of training, trainer Trevor McKenzie unties his gloves and towels off his head.
C. Stiles
As Johnson cools down after a day of training, trainer Trevor McKenzie unties his gloves and towels off his head.

The fight starts like most of Johnson's fights, with him feeling out his opponent, letting the other guy swing and cover, looking for an early hole. Soon, though, Johnson goes to work. He raises his forearms over his face, deflecting the fists flying in his direction. Then, like a tank in battle deliberately lining up a target and moving into position, he squares his shoulders with Norwood's and unloads a stream of snapping blows. Johnson lets out loud barks as his fists lash his opponent. At the end of the first round, Norwood is already lumbering back to his corner.

Jillian applauds politely.

With the same blue-collar persistency that has marked Johnson's career, he methodically stalks his opponent. By the beginning of the fourth round, Norwood is missing as many punches as he's blocking. He's barely attacking, crouched low, throwing soft jabs that seem to deflect off Johnson's glistening head. Then, as Norwood turns right to escape a combination, Johnson gets one clean shot at Norwood's left cheek. It has the same dull sound as a football being punted. A gelatinous mass of blood and spit disgorges from Norwood's mouth, arches over the ropes, and splatters on the cement in front of the first row, where it remains as the referee wraps his arms around the dazed fighter and signals to Johnson that the fight is over.

Johnson's corner jumps into the ring in celebration. Jillian stands by the stairs in her husband's corner, waiting for him. She gives a knowing nod.

Norwood stands over the stool on his side of the ring, still looking confused.

In his dressing room, Jillian says she was never concerned about her husband's opponent. "I don't worry about the other fighters anymore. At this point, it's like we're fighting the judges out there."

"He put on the fantastic display of boxing everyone in the world knew he would," Foster says. "If Joe Calzaghe won't fight Glen now, he's just —"

Norwood is at the door. He has showered and dressed. His face is already swelling.

Norwood passes Foster and Jillian and the trainers. Johnson had just removed his trunks and stands in his white briefs. Norwood extends his hand. "I just want to..." he sounds like he still has a fist in his mouth. "I just want to thank you for the fight, sir. It's been an honor."

A few days after the fight, Johnson and Jillian sit at a Hooter's in Pembroke Pines, discussing the direction of his career. There's no word on a next fight. "We've got a five-year plan and a ten-year plan," says Jillian, who is taking graduate business classes at Nova Southeastern University. "But the vehicle to get there is the boxing."

Johnson is quiet. Jillian speaks with the prepared, determined vernacular of a corporate executive. She's petite with smooth skin and a command of any conversation she's participating in. "With the fights not coming the way they're supposed to, it obviously slows down the process," she says. "It doesn't stop it; it just slows it down. You have to get around obstacles, and that's just an obstacle."

"There's only so much you can do," Johnson says. "I train six days a week, even when I don't have a fight scheduled. I try to knock out anyone they put in front of me. What else can I do? You can't do what your mind tells you to do, because there are laws against that."

He watches the replays of his fights, but he has to turn the sound off. He says he's tired of listening to the announcers favor the other guy. "For whatever reason, I just don't have the same market value as some of these other guys," he says.

He mentions the poster made up for his fight with Roy Jones Jr. He spotted it in the elevator of the hotel in Memphis. The image was of Jones punching a bag with the words Glen Johnson on it. Sand poured out a hole in the bottom.

"That's the disrespect he gets," Jillian says.

But Johnson can't complain much about his lifestyle. He puts his time in at the gym, but when he's not training, he likes to watch a lot of DVDs and take Jillian out to the movies. Her favorite movie is The Lion King; his is Hitman. They ride Jet Skis and ATVs. They wear designer clothes; that night Johnson wore a sharp, brown suede coat. And they drive nice cars.

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