By: Hans Themistode
Callum Johnson believed he was on the verge of completing his lifelong dream of becoming a world champion. After dropping unified light heavyweight titlist Artur Beterbiev during their 2018 showdown, Johnson began salivating. However, while he got off to a hot start, Beterbiev rallied back, stopping his man in the fourth round.
Following three consecutive victories, Johnson had successfully worked his way back to title contention. And, on January 15th, the 36-year-old was looking forward to facing off against WBO belt holder Joe Smith Jr.
But, in news that has become the norm, Johnson has been forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. With the pair slated to face off in less than a week, Johnson’s promoter, Frank Warren, expressed his disappointment with the entire ordeal.
“It’s a real great shame for Callum,” said Warren to BBC Sport. “Hopefully we can get him back in, they may want to [reschedule the fight] in late spring. He worked really hard to get the opportunity.”
While Johnson’s withdrawal has come at an inopportune time, Smith Jr. is expected to remain on the card and compete against a replacement opponent. The 32-year-old was crowned a world champion for the first time in his career following his win over Maxim Vlasov in 2021. Originally, the New York native was expected to step through the ropes at the tail end of 2021 but was forced to hold off on his title defense due to his own bout with COVID-19.
If for some reason, Smith Jr. emerges victorious and bypasses Johnson, Warren wouldn’t be entirely disappointed. With another one of his highly-rated contenders within striking distance of mandatory status, Warren would have no issues if Smith Jr. looked the other way.
“I’d love to do Joe Smith v Anthony Yarde in the UK. The WBO says there is a mandatory due and it’s going to be Yarde. He is the number one. Anthony looked so good in his last fight against Lyndon Arthur. We’ve got him down to fight sometime in March anyway. Fingers crossed. We’ll see what happens next week with Smith and how he comes through. Then go from there. I want to keep Anthony busy. We want to get the world title shot for him. The experience he’s gained since [fighting] Sergey Kovalev stands him in good stead. He really gives Smith so many problems.”
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