Vonzell Johnson Had All the Skills to Be a World Champion!
By: Ken Hissner
This writer remembers seeing Vonzell Johnson the former 1974 Golden Glove and AAU champion fight and was quite impressed with him. His professional record was 22-3 with 11 knockouts. Trainers were Henry Grooms, Dell Williams, Robert Mitchell and Angelo Dundee.
Johnson was and is from Columbus, OH, and spent time in Detroit and Miami Beach in his professional career. In Detroit he was in a gym with such boxers as Floyd Mayweather, Sr. (28-6-10), Greg Coverson (31-2), Johnny Baldwin 32-5, 1968 Olympics Bronze, Len Hutchins 29-4-1 (1968 GG-AAU champ losing WBA/WBC title bouts and Rico Hoye (24-4 pro/68-12 am) challenged for IBF light heavyweight title.
As you can see Johnson had some very good fighters in the gym he worked. He had good people to spar with. Johnson at 6’4” and 165 in amateurs moved up to 175. He had the build of champion Bob Foster. He turned professional in November of 1974 and went onto win his first 15 fights. His first opponent was Sylvester Wilder of whom Johnson had sparred with in camp with Len Hutchins. He defeated Joe Middleton twice. “He never stopped coming,” said Johnson. In his sixth fight a clash of heads with George McGee in the second round he suffered a bad cut but went onto win decision. In his ninth fight he defeated Terry Lee who Johnson said was “tough”. Lee had 39 fights at the time.
Johnson went onto stop veteran Eddie “Red Top” Owens, 36-27-3. In his 13th fight he took on contender Hildo Silva, 34-9-6, and won by decision. Silva wouldn’t fight again. In Johnson’s next fight he took on Tony Greene, 17-5-3, who was trained by Angelo Dundee at the time. Dundee came into the dressing room watching Johnson get his hands wrapped and said “take that pad off.” To this Johnson said “I’m going to knock him out!” This he did. Greene and Johnson became friends and sparred together when Dundee would later train both boxers. Next up Johnson defeated the Canadian champion Gary Summerhays, 28-10-3.
Johnson took his first loss in his next fight losing to Jerry Celestine, 9-1-1, he his hometown of New Orleans. “I beat him up. He had been in prison and of course it was his hometown. I still never considered that fight a loss on my record,” said Johnson. After winning his next three fights Johnson was off for some 15 months. That is when he decided to have Dundee train him in September of 1979.
In Johnson’s third fight under Dundee he took on Johnny Davis, 9-1, in Atlantic City and defeated him. The younger brother of Davis, Ed Davis at the time was 16-1-1, and was so upset Johnson defeated his brother he wanted to fight Johnson but the fight never came off. Johnny Davis had a win over future champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
After his win over Davis, Johnson took on Andros Ernie Barr, 25-6, of the Bahamas in December of 1980, defeating him. It was just two months later he was asked to fight for the title with just 3 weeks to prepare to fight for the WBC title that Matthew Saad Muhammad , 28-3-2, held. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad pulled out of the fight. Johnson was cut over the eye in the seventh round. This was a good close fight in Atlantic City but in the ninth round he asked Dundee “what round is it?” When Dundee told him he said “I’m tired and could never do another six rounds. He was stopped with a kidney punch in the eleventh round. “I could have beaten him easy if I had more time to get ready”, said Johnson.
It would be November of 1981 some nine months later Johnson who was No. 8 in the world got his second chance in a title fight with 1976 Gold Medalist and WBA light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, 17-0, in Atlantic City. Dundee was in Johnson’s corner and at ringside was “Sugar” Ray Leonard doing the broadcasting. Spinks was ahead 4-2 in rounds having had a big fifth round but was cut in the sixth round when in the seventh round referee Larry Hazzard came from behind Johnson and tapped him on the back making him think break and as Johnson put his two arms out pushing away from Spinks when Spinks threw a left upper cut missing but the follow up right hand didn’t knocking Johnson to the canvas. He beat the count of referee Hazzard’s but he ruled the fight over. “I thought it was a quick stoppage. We were asked to come to New York after that with boxing under investigation but not only didn’t I go but never boxed again,” said Johnson.
“I had one more fight in the making but it never came off. Spinks was awkward and the best fighter I had faced as a professional. Until he passed away Angelo (Dundee) called me on Christmas every year,” said Johnson. Today Johnson would be a world champion!