ESPN2 presents a rare significant fight when Glen Johnson and Yusaf Mack face off tonight at the NSU Arena in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in a battle of two solid light heavyweight contenders. This fight was originally scheduled to appear on the Shane Mosley-Andre Berto undercard on January 30th, but was nearly scrapped when Berto withdrew to aid the relief effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. It was picked up by ESPN2 at a bargain basement price and adds some class to the procession of journeymen and trialhorses that hobble through “Friday Night Fights” on a regular basis.
At 41, Glen Johnson, coming off of an ugly decision loss to Chad Dawson last November, is looking at his last chance for a possible big money fight in the future. He appeared so jaded against Dawson in Hartford three months ago that it seems possible Johnson is now in possession of a glass that is always half empty. Not only did Dawson shut Johnson down completely, but he also looked leisurely in doing so. It did not take much effort for Dawson to outbox Johnson at every turn, and it will be a long night for Johnson if he fights as sluggishly against Mack as he did against Dawson. Still, Johnson, Miami via Jamaica, will enter the ring as a slight favorite across most books.
Mack, 28-2-2 (17), is a talented boxer-puncher who, to his detriment, sometimes punches more often than he boxes. Slugging it out with Librado Andrade, for example, is an error in judgment on par with sticking your hand into a cage at the zoo. More than once Mack appeared on the verge of stopping Andrade, but exchanging blows with a powerpunching wildman is risky business at any point. Both of his losses have come to heavy hitters—Andrade and Alejandro Berrio. His performance against Berrio was particularly disturbing because Berrio, with his glass jaw and his gaping defense, should have been easy pickings for a skilled sharpshooter like Mack. Instead, Mack, 30, was worn down and stopped in the sixth round. A more disciplined Mack should be able to avoid slugging in the future. In his last big fight, Mack smacked dangerous Chris Henry around early and hung on to win a split decision after 12 hard rounds. According to his management team, Mack was dried out at super middleweight and unable to perform at his best. Mack, with a new trainer and a new promoter—Lou DiBella—has now won five bouts in a row as a light heavyweight.
Johnson, 49-13-2 (33), does not punch as hard as Andrade, Berrio, or Henry, but is far cagier than anyone Mack has ever fought. The question here is whether or not Johnson, after 17 years as a pro, is reduced solely to caginess. If not, he will apply the pressure from the opening bell, attack the body with brio, and drop rain on Mack when in close. In that case, Mack, New York via Philadelphia, will have his work cut out for him and must be able to box with discipline. Defensively, Mack has a few cute moves, but these slick turns are almost exclusively used when Mack is against the ropes and under fire. During the course of a fight, Mack often drops his left a little too low and tends to back up in a straight line in front of his opponent. This is a bad RX for fighting Johnson, who does his best work against stationary targets. In order for Mack to outpoint Johnson—the likeliest outcome for a Mack victory—he will have to be keep busy and give the older man angles. As usual, Johnson will come boring in, looking to make things as uncomfortable as possible between the ropes.
In the end, however, Mack is younger, faster, and more skilled than Johnson. This fight, then, comes down to a couple of X-factors. Can Johnson, at this stage of his career, force the kind of pace needed to draw Mack into a firefight? And will Mack fade if things start getting rough? Questions concerning his stamina and durability have been aired ever since Mack was knocked out by Alejandro Berrio in 2006. When Mack was stopped by Librado Andrade in seven heats after a fast start, Mack was typecast as a fighter who cannot handle pressure. And pressure, of course, is a Glen Johnson specialty.
Eventually, Johnson will be able to provoke Mack into swinging freely. At that point, Mack will either prove or disprove the conventional wisdom about his durability and stamina. It seems likely, however, that a skilled boxer like Mack would have given Johnson trouble at any stage of his career. Look for Mack to ride out a few rough spots and score a close decision in a fast-paced bout.