Glen Johnson is an interesting case. Sort of a unique case. At 42, he's been a contender since 1997, when he faced and was unceremoniously trounced by then-middleweight king Bernard Hopkins.
He's lost 15 times in his career. Some were debatable, but some were not. And he's even gone on stretches where he couldn't buy a win (though perhaps someone else did). Starting with Hopkins, he lost three straight fights, the latter pair to Merqui Sosa and Joseph Kiwanuka. In a stretch in 1999-2000, he lost fought straight to Sven Ottke, Syd Vanderpool, Silvio Branco and Omar Sheika.
In 2002-03, he lost a pair to Derrick Harmon and Julio Cesar Gonzalez, then drew with Daniel Judah. But then in 2004, something happened. He avenged a draw with Clinton Woods, and was matched up with Roy Jones Jr. At the time, there were already questions about Jones. He hadn't looked good in a win over Antonio Tarver, then was knocked out in two rounds by Tarver in the rematch. Johnson, a veteran with nine losses already on his sheet, was not an easy pick to come back against, but also figured to not be enough for Jones' superior physical gifts.
Johnson battered Jones, and knocked him out hard in the ninth round. Roy was never the same. Neither was Glen Johnson, who would in his next fight claim the light heavyweight world championship from Antonio Tarver.
The reign didn't last. Nothing in Glen Johnson's career ever does -- not the highs, not the lows. Not the debated losses or the hard-fought wins. Nothing lasts except the determination, professionalism, and quality of his performances. Every fight out, he's there to fight. And unlike Jones and James Toney, a couple of men his age, he has yet to embarrass himself in the ring with an old man performance where the spirit may be willing, but the body can't meet the demands anymore.
In Johnson's last (for now) serious run at light heavyweight, he lost a pair of fights to Chad Dawson (one close, one not) and then a tough battle to Tavoris Cloud. He won fights, but none over top contenders. Then the call came from out of the blue: Could he get back down to 168 pounds, a weight he hadn't competed at in 10 years, and fill in for Mikkel Kessler in the Super Six World Boxing Classic?
Of course he could. He's Glen Johnson.
In November 2010, he entered the tournament and stopped fellow replacement competitor Allan Green in eight rounds. It was a good fight, answered the questions of whether or not the weight cut would hurt "Gentleman" Glen (not noticeably), and showed that Johnson still, somehow, wasn't close to done.
It didn't last, again. He was defeated by Carl Froch in June of this year, eliminated from the tournament. But once again, he has found himself with an opportunity, facing Lucian Bute in Quebec City.
The two are friends. They have sparred together in the past. They know each other well. As Bute says, on Friday they were friends, on Sunday they'll be friends, and on Saturday night, it's the boxing business, and they have to fight.
Johnson (51-15-2, 35 KO) may never get another chance like this, to defeat a title-holding younger man. We've said that before, but seriously, one of these times has to be it. One chance has to be the last chance.
Breakdown and Pick
Bute (29-0, 24 KO) is an explosive fighter. At 31, he's perhaps a few years older than he might seem, as he still hasn't truly broken out. This isn't because he's not a star, because he is in Quebec. He's one of the most consistent draws in all of boxing. And he wins every time out, often in exciting, impressive fashion.
It's just that when your best opponents have been Sakio Bika, Brian Magee, and Librado Andrade, you still lack a signature victory.
Glen Johnson, even at 42, is probably the best fighter that Bute has ever faced. That may not be true after we see the fight -- after all, boxers get old quickly, often in a single fight. That could happen. But for now, this is the toughest opponent of Bute's career.
I don't expect this is the fight where Glen ages for good. Bute has the talent to make him look old, as Chad Dawson did in 2009, but I think his style, unlike Dawson's, gives Johnson a better chance to stay in the fight. Bute can be predictable, and those loaded-up, laser-like body shots that he so favors, and so thrill the fans (rightfully so), may not be effective on someone as smart and technically sound as Glen Johnson.
One thing that could be Johnson's downfall is his habit of selling out looking for overhand rights, but that could also be his money punch against the southpaw. Bute is the taller man, but doesn't have a reach advantage, with fairly short arms for his height and weight class. That won't help him keep range against the hard-charging Johnson, and one thing that worries me from Bute's corner is that Lucian has often looked very soft when fighting inside. He doesn't like it, he's not good at it, and he tries to avoid it at all costs.
I'm taking Bute to win a decision here, but I believe this is going to be a close fight. It could be another one where Johnson has a very good argument for the win. If he gets inside and bangs away at Bute, this thing could get very interesting. Bute by decision.
In the co-feature, I'll take Pier Olivier Cote over Jorge Luis Teron. I think Cote is just too much for Teron, but don't forget that Teron was once a strong prospect himself, and at 26, he could get that back. Cote via TKO-9.