By Johnny Walker
American heavyweight contender Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson is a man on a mission these days.
Johnson (26-1-1, 12 KOs) is perhaps best known for laying a huge egg when he faced WBC heavyweight world champion Vitali Klitschko in Germany back in late 2009. After trash-talking a blue streak in the lead-up to the fight, when he got in the ring with Klitschko, Johnson, as so many others have done, froze in the spotlight, and spent the entire fight laying in the ropes, content to mark Klitschko up with his accurate jab but doing little else in a lopsided unanimous decision loss.
The negative performance against Klitschko has haunted Johnson—who was soon tagged with the sardonic nickname “Safety Pin” by irate fans—ever since.
Of late, however, Johnson has rebounded, and gotten himself back in the mix at heavyweight. He’s scored four straight wins, the latest being an impressive ninth round TKO over rising Australian heavyweight Alex Leapai back in April of this year.
And now Johnson is the favorite to take home the honors in the latest version of promoter Barry Hearn’s Prizefighter tourney, where the participants engage in an elimination series of action-packed 3-round bouts and the winner is the last man standing: either figuratively via the scorecards, or literally.
“Prizefighter is something I know I can complete. I never stick my hand into hot water knowing I’m going to get burnt, so it’s not a very dangerous situation,” Johnson recently told Sky Sports.
If you have the mindset to be heavyweight champion of the world, how can Prizefighter stop you from [achieving] such a great destiny?”
Johnson says that the no-nonsense, all guns blazing style of the Prizefighter format suits him just fine.
“I’ve been sprinting like this since I was in the amateurs,” says Johnson. “Those were the gold days. When you was an amateur, for nine years, you fight sprints. Nine years. There’s no skills, no counterpunching, no combinations, you just sprint. “
Should he win Prizefighter, Johnson intends to stick around in the UK, hoping to make his way back to the top of the heavyweight heap by taking out some of Britain’s big names the way he did Leapai in Australia.
“David Price, the winner of David Haye [versus Dereck Chisora], Tyson Fury, anybody, anywhere who clams they want to be heavyweight champion of the world, I want you,” says the confident Johnson.
Also competing in the tournament, to be held Wednesday, June 20 in Bethnal Green, UK, is Albert Sosnowski (46-4-2, 28 KOs), who shares the distinction of being the next man following Johnson to lose to Vitali Klitschko (albeit earning more respect than Johnson did by trying to win and getting knocked out), along with Tor Hamer, Noureddine Meddoune, Tom Dallas, Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, Tom Little, and Maurice Harris.
The initial Prizefighter quarterfinal matchups are:
Quarter-final 1: Albert Sosnowski v Maurice Harris
Quarter-final 2: Noureddine Meddoune v Kevin Johnson
Quarter-final 3: Tor Hamer v Marcelo Luiz Nascimento
Quarter-final 4: Tom Dallas v Tom Little