Former Light heavyweight Callum Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) has announced his long-awaited return to the ring and cruiserweight debut. The thirty-seven-year-old will be co-main event on a Gary Booth, M31 Boxing Promotions show alongside former world champion Paul Butler on Friday the 8th of December at the Fuse Roc Centre, Manchester. 

Johnson has had a strange career to say the least and has been out of the ring since October 2021. His last bout was a forgettable ten round majority decision victory over Server Emurlaev of Russia in the first defence of his WBO “Global” title.

Though only ever suffering one loss in his professional career, Johnson just never managed to get a proper foothold in pro boxing. A stand out amateur who reportedly compiled a vested record of 95 wins of 120 contest, boxed forty times in international contest and won a gold medal at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games at light heavyweight, a tournament in which he captained the Scottish boxing team. Johnson boxed for Scotland by way of his grandmother who came from Glasgow. Put simply, bar a good run in the Amateur Boxing World Championships or an Olympic run out Johnson had as stellar an unpaid boxing career as anyone could ask for and looked sure to do great things in the paid ranks. 

Signing with hall of fame promoter Frank Warren and taking on the former champion Naseem Hamed as his manager he made his debut in December 2010 against fellow Brit Phillip Townley, Johnson looked great as he stopped his man in the second of a four-round bout. He followed this up with two points victories in four round bouts in an inactive and lacklustre 2011. Johnson was simply not as busy as a fledgling pro fresh out of the highest echelons of amateur boxing should be and this lack of activity became an ever-present spectre over his career. 

Between his debut in the closing of 2011 and mid 2016 Johnson only managed to eke out fifteen outings and ultimately boxed no opponents of any real consequence, what was more worrying is that he never managed to put more than four bouts together in any one year, with 2014 marking his busiest year, a twelve-month period in which he scored thee stoppages and one points victory. 

Sadly, Johnson’s father Paul suddenly passed away in February of 2016. This obviously left Johnson devastated, he has made no secret of the affect his father’s loss has had on him but it was his father who introduced a young Callum to boxing so he endeavoured to carry on and dedicate his career to his dad’s memory. 

In September of 2016 just seven months after the loss of his father he boxed for his first professional championship when he took on the solid Namibian pugilist Willbeforce Shihepo, a decent but limited boxer with good power. Shihepo had previously boxed Stanyslav Kashtanov, the teak tough, defensive minded Isaac Chillemba (who he boxed twice and beat once) and the once great Arthur Abraham. Up until the Johnson fight Shihepo had seven losses but had only not heard the final bell once when he retired in the fourth against Kashtanov. Shihepo proved a tough night’s work and gave Johnson a rough night’s work, the two men clashed heads in round one and Johnson had to contend swelling around the eye. But ultimately it was to be the British man’s night as he produced a nasty, short right hook in round nine to put the awkward Namibian down and secure the Commonwealth strap. It was far from pretty but it was exactly what was needed, fresh air was breathed into Johnson’s ever deflated career and Johnson was asked questions that should have been asked four years earlier. Johnson dedicated his title victory to his late father. 

Then, just when his professional career seemed to finally be heading in the right direction, promises were being fulfilled and titles were being captured and all that was needed was activity Johnson would step into the ring again for nearly two years. A myriad of reasons both personal and professional kept Johnson from moving on. 

In 2018 Johnson returned, this time in a big one. He was to take on fan favourite, and former world title challenger Frank Buglioni for the British light heavyweight title. Buglioni, himself a former top-notch amateur, although nowhere near Johnson’s level had accumulated all of the professional experience that Johnson so sorely needed sitting on a 22-2-1 record and he had been in the ring with serous talent like Fedor Chudinov, Hosea Burton and Craig Richards. The two men were hard to separate, Johnson was universally haled as the superior boxer and bigger puncher but fans and pundits had no real reason or evidence to believe he could pull it off. On the evening of March 24th, 2018, Callum Johnson lifted the roof off of the O2 Arena in London when he utterly dismantled Buglioni in just over a minute and a half of the first round. It was complete destruction and there was something utterly cathartic about the beat down, it was as if he was beating the naysayers and punching holes in the wall that always seemed to block his way. It was a special night that has gone down in modern British boxing history, the night Callum Johnson lived up to his talent and punched his ticket to world level. 

If Johnson wasted time in his career, he was now looking to get a move on, no three defences to nab the Lonsdale belt for keeps it was time to swim in deep waters. In October 2018 Johnson took on the deadly Artur Beterbiev at the Wintrust Arena, Chicago, USA, in an attempt to claim the frightening Russian’s IBF world title. Beterbiev who was himself a former amateur star who had capture near enough every major medal on offer was 12-0 with very victory coming via stoppage, a master boxer with elite skills, pin point accuracy and other worldly power. Johnson was cannon fodder, a tough and up for it basic boxer who had no chance. 

It was not meant to be, ultimately Johnson wasn’t good enough but he was far from the no hoper the American’s thought they’d booked. The plucky Brit met the Russian destroyer in the middle of the canvas and was the physical manifestation of “Let’s just have it”. He showed Beterbiev no fear and ultimately no respect. In the second Johnson smashed his man with powerful left hook that would have starched many a light heavyweight and dropped Beterbiev. It was a big shot and Beterbiev was evidently hurt but true to his elite form he managed to get up and recovered in shockingly quick fashion. Johnson would go for the kill but punch himself out and Beterbiev turned the tables and ultimately turned the screw, he dropped Johnson in the fourth with a big right hand and forced the referent stop the bout. 

No Johnson didn’t win, he didn’t even make it to the second half of the bout, but he gave it his all, he said sod it, put his best most aggressive foot forward and smashed leather into the Russian mountains head. He did himself proud and more importantly to him, he did his father’s memory proud. Taking on one of the elites and putting them on the deck. 

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He’d proven so much, showed so much and everything finally seemed to be coming together, even off of a loss and there was a real excitement about the future, names were being thrown around, an Anthony Yarde fight was being touted, Oleksandr Gvozdyk was a possibility and Joe smith Jr. was a very enticing possible match up. 

A quick-ish turn around was organised and Johnson took on the very decent fringe world level American, Sean Monaghan in early March of 2019 again in the USA at The Turning Stone Resort Casino, Verona, New York. Johnson proved to be far too good and far too strong, battering his American opponent and forcing a third-round stoppage. 

Then, again due to a myriad of personal and professional issues, Johnson was out of the ring again, this time for two years, he sat out the rest of 2019 and wrote off the whole of 2020, though the Covid response may have been partially responsible for this it was another punch in the gut of Johnson’s career. Just when he’s proven himself to be a threat to the world’s best, he’s gone again and this time, almost most fans just couldn’t be bothered to care, not from any place of secret malice but because there comes a point where any situation becomes untenable and at this point Johnson’s career looked more than unstable and not at all saveable. It felt like time for everyone to move on. 

Eventually Johnson did return. In April of 2021 he took on Croatian journeyman Emil Markic for the vacant and all together ridiculous slight to boxing that is the WBO “Global” title. Johnson stopped his man in the second and went on to make his first defence six months later against the aforementioned Server Emurlaev. He was winning and technically still a title holder but something was off and gain Johnson took an extended hiatus. 

Johnson took nearly another year out of the ring but kept to a tight training regime which he documented online for his fans, he put on considerable amount of lean muscle mass and the idea that the hulking beast that could be seen lifting huge weights in the gym could ever make 175lb ever again seemed fanciful at best. Then in late 2022, the news we all knew was coming was given to us as Johnson announced his retirement from the sport of boxing. 

In August of this year Johnson announced that he was making a comeback, up at the cruiserweight limit. And now we have a date. It’s hard to know how this is going to go, he’ll have been out of the ring for another two years and has not boxed anyone of consequence for four years. And put plainly he is old, now aged 38 and he has many miles on the clock, though he did not have the most strenuous professional career, he has been in boxing for over two decades and was put through the meat grinder of elite amateur boxing. The move up in weight is interesting and was obviously needed, there is no doubt he’ll carry his power up but the extra muscle mass may cause unforeseen issues. And it’s a great time to be a Cruiserweight in Britain as we have a list of 200lb talent, Chris Billam-Smith, who is the current WBO champion, Richard Riakporhe, Lawrence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain are certainly all on the radar.
Surely Johnson could do with a yearlong build up and rebuild, especially if he has titles in mind and if history is anything to go by, and it is, Johnson needs to crack on and take what he can get when he can get it. 

But first December the 8th in Manchester, the rest can wait. 


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