By Matt Richardson
If talking was fighting, unbeaten heavyweight Kevin Johnson would be the undisputed champion. Johnson (21-0-1, 8 KO’s) is a brash and outspoken American heavyweight. Fightnews had a chance to catch up with the loquacious fighter before his fight tonight on ESPN 2 against 2004 Olympic Team Captain (and unbeaten heavyweight) Devon Vargas. Vargas was a last minute replacement for an injured Monte Barrett. To hear what Johnson had to say about Vargas, Barrett, the current status of the heavyweight division and much more, just read on.
How long did you train for this fight and where did you train?
About eight weeks. I was preparing to fight Monte a few weeks earlier than May 15th but the original date was moved. But no big deal for me. I’m always training and sparring so that I can get it cracking at any time. I spent a couple of weeks in Ireland working with Matt Rogan and the rest of the time in my gym in Atlanta, Georgia.
Has the last minute opponent change affected your preparation?
Not at all. I don’t prepare for fighters. They got to prepare for me. This kid ain’t never been in with the type of guys I’ve been in there with. I was brought up under Larry Holmes…spent years sparring with guys like Faruq Saleem, Monte Barrett, Wladimir Klitschko and other top guys in the division and my record speaks for itself. I would never disrespect myself by preparing for guys who ain’t on my level.
Is Devon Vargas the best opponent you have faced to date and what is your opinion of him as a fighter?
Hell no, not even close. I’ve been in there with guys with a lot more talent and heart than him. Don’t get it twisted. He got a nice amateur background and all that but let him fight some of the guys that I fought and I bet you that he wouldn’t be undefeated. Let him fight Timor Ibragimov, Damian Willis or even Bruce Seldon and I bet that he would have a couple of losses.
You are one of the rare unbeaten American heavyweights, do you feel pressure to step up and bring the titles and credibility back to the country?
Absolutely. That’s why I jump at every chance that I get to get in the ring. Bur as my manager or promoter will tell you, nobody wants to step up and face me. The so called champions keep hiding behind their promoters and are afraid to defend their titles in the US. But I don’t give a damn. I’ll go to Germany to fight any of the champions right now. I jumped at the chance to fight (Ruslan) Chagaev about a year or so ago and he fought Matt Skelton instead. I jumped at a chance to fight (Nicolai) Valuev in December of ’08 and he fought Evander Holyfield instead. I thought that I had David Haye lined up but he pulled out at the last minute. It’s time for the sanctioning bodies to make these guys fight real competition and when they do I’ll be ready to pick off all of the titles.
You have developed a reputation as a boring fighter (more than half of your fights have gone the distance), have you made a conscious effort to start being more aggressive in order to become more exciting and maybe then start earning some of the bigger paydays?
That’s a myth. Every time I fight I pack the house and the ratings are off the hook when I fight on TV. My knockouts are lower than a lot of heavyweights because I fight better competition. Look at the guys that I fought. How many times have they been knocked out? Not often. I fight real fighters, not broke-ass bums. I don’t chase knockouts, I chase success. If the knockout is there, I take it but I’m not going to go out there and get sloppy just because somebody else looks good knocking out guys with 11-30 records. It’s frustrating but what can you do? So I’m glad that Devon Vargas stepped up because nobody else has the balls.
You are 29 years old, is now the time to take control and step up your game?
Step up? Like I said, there isn’t a heavyweight that I will say no to at this point in my career. I’ve been calling out everybody that I can think of and so has my promoter and manager. Guys like James Toney, John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, David Tua, Valuev, Chagaev – you name them and I will fight them. But I can’t make them fight. Go ask those guys what their problem is and why they are afraid of the guys like myself.
What is your opinion of the current state of the heavyweight division?
It’s a joke. Nobody wants to fight. The only guys who are willing to fight are guys like me, Chris Arreola and a few other young cats. And the champs are just holding the titles hostage. This is the worst that the division has been and I still can’t get ahead. The politics of this sport are b.s.
What are your goals for this fight and for the rest of the year?
I know that my team has been trying to get me a shot at the winner of the Chagaev-Valuev fight so we are waiting to see how that plays out. They are also trying to get Lamon Brewster to step up to the plate so keep a look out for that possibility this summer. Other than that, I expect to be fighting for a title before the end of the year.
Is there is anything else you want to add?
Tell all my fans that the Kingpin is back. Don’t blink during my fight with Vargas because it won’t last that long.