Flashback: Reggie “Sweet” Johnson

By: Heath Harlem
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Reggie “Sweet” Johnson was born on August 28. 1966 in Houston Texas. Reggie grew up in Houston’s tough “fifth ward” neighborhood and when he was 12 years old his uncle took him to the Salvation Army Boys Club where he first learned to box. At the gym, Johnson quickly found a mentor in James Carter a local boxing coach. Coach Carter taught Reggie the sport of boxing and mentored him for life outside of the ring. While Reggie felt that he was a natural and boxing was his niche in life, things didn’t start smoothly for him. Johnson lost his first 4 amateur fights, including being disqualified in his first fight for slapping. In a short period of time after beginning his amateur career, Johnson’s raw talent was developed into great boxing skill, and Reggie Johnson became one of the best amateurs in the United States. Reggie was a member of the United States Boxing team and won both national and international tournaments. In the 1984 Olympic Trials he lost a 3-2 decision to Frank Tate. At the end of 1984 Reggie turned pro after compiling an amateur record of 96-12. The relationship that Reggie formed with James Carter and the others at the Salvation Army gym influence Reggie’s life even to this day. Reggie is active in the Houston community with performing various charity work, and calls James carter the greatest influence on his life.

Reggie began his pro career with a fourth round win over journeyman Mark Henderson in Pasadena, Texas on August 14th, 1984. After that win Johnson steadily rose through the middleweight ranks going from prospect, to contender, before getting his first world title shot against James Tony on June 29th, 1991. With a record of 29-1-1 Johnson a 2-1 underdog, faced the undefeated Tony. The underdog started with a bang, putting Tony on the canvas for the first time in his career, before ultimately losing a split decision. To this day Johnson still feels he was on the wrong end of the decision. Johnson recovered from the defeat, and in April 1992 he defeated Steve Collins to become the WBA Middle Weight Champion. Reggie was able to successfully defend his title three times before losing the title to John David Jackson in Argentina, another decision Johnson did not agree with. Despite two opportunities, Johnson was never able to regain his WBA Middleweight title.

On February 6th 1998 Reggie moved up to Light heavyweight to face IBF Champion William Guthrie. In a fight that was scheduled for 12 rounds Johnson scored a stunning knockout in the 5th round. Johnson successfully defended his title twice before losing his title in a unification bout against Roy Jones Jr. on June 5th, 1999. Reggie fought 3 more times successfully in the Light Heavyweight division before losing to Antonio Tarver on January 25th, 2002 via a 12 round split decision. Reggie then became inactive for three and half years before returning to face and defeat via knockout journeyman Fred Moore on August of 2005. After another two and half years of inactivity, Johnson returned to the ring for the final time on February 23rd 2008 to face and defeat via a 12 round split decision former Light Heavyweight champion Julio Cesar Gonzalez. While many have reported that the extended breaks between Johnson’s last fights were retirements, Reggie has gone on the record to state that he has never retired, not even to this day and that it was management disputes that lead to the lack of activity.

Less than one month after the Gonzalez fight Reggie Johnson was inducted for a second degree felony theft of $120,000. On October 22nd, 2010 he was convicted of stealing the funds dedicated to him for boxing clinics that were distributed through the Urban league from the Red Cross intended for children displaced by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Reggie was sentenced to 12 years in prison but he was released in 2012 due to good behavior.

Since his release from prison Reggie has been working to fight to clear his name. From the day that the indictment was handed down to today, Johnson has maintained his innocence. Johnson has claimed that he could have avoided jail time if he simply plead guilty, but that it was something he wouldn’t do since he is innocent. Despite serving his time, Johnson is continuing the fight to clear his name with the vigor that he showed in the ring as a young fighter. Reggie is also working on a comeback to the ring. Motivated by George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins, Reggie feels he can be the next Light Heavyweight Champion at 46 years old. Confident he can work himself back to 175lbs, Reggie has begun looking for a fight, calling out the whole light heavyweight division and targeting Nathan Cleverly publically. Citing his success off of the long breaks, the strength of the competition he has faced and defeated in his career as evidence that he will be successful in a return to the ring. Reggie says his desire to return to the ring isn’t about money, it is instead about showing the world what he can do, becoming world champion again and ultimately being recognized as a member of the boxing hall of fame. While he is working in the ring on a potential return to the sport and working his legal fight to clear his name outside the ring, Johnson has not stopped working with his charities in the Houston area. The influence of his first mentor and coach James Carter is driving him today and Johnson feels confident that his best days are ahead of him. Johnson envisions in the not so distant future he will have his name cleared, he will be lightweight champion of the world and he will be in a position to give more back to his community.

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