Callum Johnson says that he hopes to leapfrog domestic rivals Lyndon Arthur and Anthony Yarde in the queue to get a shot at WBO light-heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr before them.
Johnson, the former British, Commonwealth champion and IBF title challenger hopes he can get a shot at Smith while Arthur and Yarde are tied up with a rematch of their fight last year, which Arthur won.
“I’d fight Smith in my next fight,” Johnson said. “Ideally, I would have one more fight to shake off any more ring rust, but I’ve been there before, it’s not a problem.
“I believe I would beat Joe Smith. It’s a fight that has been talked about before, they said it was going to happen but never did. That’s a fight I would want and it would be nice to win that belt and bring it back and defend it against these two lads.”
The plan had been for Johnson to be in action this weekend, as one of three light-heavyweight co-headliners at the Royal Albert Hall, alongside Arthur and Yarde. An injured hand meant that Johnson did not even make it to feature in the poster, while Yarde was pulled off the show this week after his opponent pulled out and an adequate replacement could not be found, leaving Arthur’s fight with Davide Faraci to top the show alone.
Johnson should be back in the ring next month. August is traditionally a quiet month for boxing in Britain, but the return of crowds coupled with restrictions on foreign travel resulting in many not going away for a summer holiday means that the sport is likely to continue without a pause, but he knows, at 35, he does not have time to waste.
He actually started his career promoted by Warren, who signed him after winning a gold medal for Scotland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But progress was slow as he boxed only six times in his first 3½ years as a professional. He finally won a Commonwealth title in 2016, but things turned his way when he stopped Frank Buglioni inside a round to win the British title in 2018.
Suddenly, things started to happen for him as he was given a shot at IBF champion Artur Beterbiev. He came into the fight as a huge outsider, but although he was stopped in the fourth round, he did knock the Russian down.
That performance was expected to kickstart Johnson’s career. Five months later he returned to the US and beat Sean Monaghan in three rounds, but then… nothing. Eddie Hearn had talked of matching Johnson with Joshua Buatsi, but it did not happen.
Eventually he left Matchroom a signed with Warren’s Queensbury Promotions. When he stopped Emil Markic in a whirlwind two rounds in April, it was his first fight in more than two years and his first in Britain in more than three.
“I got offered a three/four fight deal with Matchroom and, to be honest, it wasn’t a great deal so we turned it down,” he said. “Then I never heard anything back, never heard anything else, I was just left on the shelf.
“I thought we would get something back – maybe ‘we might have this for you, or this’ but I never heard anything. The next thing there was Eddie on Twitter saying he wasn’t going to be working with Joe Gallagher or Joe Gallagher’s fighters any more. That was like ‘wow, OK, let’s start looking elsewhere’.
“He obviously wasn’t interested in me anyway. The offer I got wasn’t a serious offer. I don’t want to speak badly about Matchroom or Eddie because I had good times there.
“We started looking elsewhere. Frank offered us a good deal and we took it. Obviously, Frank had two good light-heavyweights on BT so I thought I could be in that mix.”
A fight with either Arthur or Yarde would interest him, he says.
“They are both good fighters,” Johnson said. “Obviously, there is talk of them having a rematch, but I’d like to get another fight, then a big fight and I will face the winner. If you ask me if I think I will beat them both, then yes, but they are both dangerous fighters.
“Their first fight didn’t surprise me. When someone can move and use the jab like Arthur did, I think Yarde can get lost a bit. That is not disrespecting him, he hasn’t got that massive amount of experience, even though he has done very well in the pros. The second could so similar, but Yarde is going to throw more and take more of a gamble. But Arthur could have more confidence after the first fight and might let more go. It’s interesting.”
But it is a world title fight that most interests Johnson. Many saw him as being thrown in too deep when the Beterbiev match was made, but he changed a lot of views when he dropped the Russian.
“I under-performed my expectations,” he says of the Beterbiev fight. “I was mandatory for that title so I thought I would have a go. I didn’t do it on the night, but I came close. “Maybe I didn’t believe in myself enough, but it is in the past. I am just interested in what the next three years has in store for me. I am comfortable where I am at and I feel like I am going to be looked after.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.