Forgotten Legends: Stevie Johnston

By: Steve Gallegos

Every so often in boxing, a champion has inherited the role of “Underdog”. It takes the heart and will of a champion to embrace and overcome the underdog role.That was the case time and time again with former two-time lightweight champion StevieLil But BadJohnston. A southpaw standing at 5’4 ½ inches, Johnston was a fan favorite amongst boxing fans in the late 90’s as he always came into the ring ready to fight while entering the ring to the classic R&B tune “Love TKO” by Teddy Pendergrass.

Steve Earl Johnston was born and raised in the “Mile High” city of Denver, CO and had and outstanding amateur record of 260-13. As an amateur, he fought Shane Mosley three times and won one of their meetings. It was reported that all three fights were close 3-2 decisions. He was an alternate on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Boxing team after losing to Vernon Forrest in the Box-offs. He turned pro in February of 1993 and won his first 20 bouts, 13 by KO. Two of those wins were KO victories of the hard hitting James Page and Sharmba Mitchell who would both go on to win world titles.

Johnston would earn his first world title shot against France’s Jean Baptiste Mendy. They met on 03/01/97 in Mendy’s hometown of Paris ,France. Johnston had to overcome Mendy’s hometown advantage as well as a five inch reach disadvantage. Johnston boxed well and controlled the pace through much of the bout. Johnston suffered a bad cut midway through the bout and had to deal with blood going into his eye. Despite this, Johnston finished the bout strong, earning a split decision and the WBC lightweight championship.

He would make his first title defense on the road as he faced the tough Japanese challenger Hiroyuki Sakamoto in Sakamoto’s home country of Japan. It was a tough battle in which Johnston would earn a split decision. His first defense in the U.S. Came against Mexican challenger Saul Duran in September of 1997. Johnston once again had to overcome a huge height and reach advantage as well as fighting through a badly swollen right eye. It was a bloody war in which Johnston dug deep and showed the heart of a champion, earning a unanimous decision. Many skeptics were beginning to criticize Johnston for taking too many shots throughout his bouts. Johnston shook off the criticism well and said it was part of the sport.

He began 1998 with an impressive unanimous decision win over the very tough George Scott on ABC’s wide world of sports. On 06/13/98 in El Paso, TX, Johnston would make his HBO debut as he took on Cesar Bazan of Mexico. The fight was the co-feature for Oscar De La Hoya’s welterweight title defense against Patrick Charpentier in front of huge crown of over 46,000 fans. As was the case for many of his bouts, Johnston had to deal with a huge height disadvantage of 7 ½ inches. It was a rough and tough fight fought mostly on the inside. Bazan, despite his height and reach advantages, elected to fight on the inside with a great deal of success. The end result was a close split decision win for Bazan.

Johnston didn’t allow his first loss to affect him negatively and he was back in the ring five months later and scored a sixth round TKO over Demetrio Ceballos. He would then face Cesar Bazan in rematch. They met on 02/27/99 in Miami, FL in an HBO Boxing After Dark main event. This time out, it was a much different and better fight. Johnston obviously went back to the drawing board and prepared himself well for this rematch. Johnston was able to overcome the height and reach disadvantages much better this time and landed very hard shots to the body and head while busting up both of Bazan’s eyes. When the final bell sounded, Johnston was awarded a split-decision victory. He was once again a world champion.

During this time, fellow unbeaten lightweight champion Shane Mosley was lobbying for a fight with Johnston; however the timeframe between Johnston’s rematch with Bazan and the April timeframe for Shane’s final fight at lightweight didn’t match up; therefore the fight was scrapped. With the Mosley fight now out of the picture, Johnston elected to face the very skilled and colorful Angel “El Diablo” Manfredy. They met on 08/14/99 at the Foxwood’s Resort in Mashantucket, CT.

Manfredy was confident going into this fight and felt that Johnston didn’t pose any threat to him. Stevie came out and overcame the odds once again. He rose to another level that night, outboxing Manfredy all night long and showed him that he was the boss. The end result was a convincing 12 round unanimous decision victory. He would end 1999 on the road, winning an impressive 12 round decision over Billy Schwer in Schwer’s hometown of London, England.

He would start the new millenium with a second round TKO victory over Julio Alvarez in his hometown of Denver, CO. He then faced relatively unknown Mexican challenger Jose Luis Castillo. They met on 06/17/00 in Bell Garden’s, CA. It was a rough and tough fight in which Castillo lured Johnston into fighting his fight. After 12 hard rounds, Castillo was awarded a majority decision which was Ring Magazine’s upset of the year.

They would meet again just three months later in Denver, CO. The fight was very close and tight in which neither fighter could gain the edge. When the final bell sounded, it was once again ruled a majority decision, this time for Johnston. After the decision was announced, it was discovered that judge Ken Morita had incorrectly added up his scorecard and he had the fight even; therefore the fight was ruled a draw and the WBC title was taken back from Johnston. It would be the last time he would challenge for a world title.

He would continue on and would win his next 5 bouts before losing an 11th round TKO against Juan Lazcano on 09/13/03 in a WBC title eliminator bout. Later that year, Johnston would face an even tougher battle outside the ring. He would suffer a very bad car accident in which he went through the windshield and ended up with over 100 stitches in his face. The accident would sideline Johnston for the next two years and would return to the ring in October of 2005; however he wasn’t the same fighter. He would go 7-3 from 2005-2008 in which he suffered 2 bad KO losses to Vivian Harris and Edner Cherry.

He retired in 2008 with a record of 42-6-1 with 18 KO’s. A humble and honest fighter who gave it his all everytime he stepped into the ring. He was a true underdog who was probably one of the most overlooked champions in history and no matter what obstacle he was faced with, he defied the odds time and time again. We definitely look forward to the day when he makes it to Canastota and is inducted into the Hall of Fame as he definitely deserves the honor.

Manfredy vs Johnston







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