- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

I placed a call yesterday morning and at the other end of the line something akin to a miracle occurred — Ham Johnson could not talk.

He wasn’t at a loss for words — that would signal the end of civilization as we know it — it’s that he could barely speak. His throat was so sore from the yelling he did Saturday night as he manned the corner for his boxer/son Mark at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. He had good reason to cheer — the District’s Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was a world champion again.

“I called a friend of mine today and she asked, ‘Who is this?’” Ham said. “I said, ‘It’s Ham.’ She said I sounded like Fred Sanford from ‘Sanford and Son.’ I can hardly talk.”

Despite the raspy voice, the animated trainer squeezed out a few words about Too Sharp’s upset win over Fernando Montiel which earned him the World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation bantamweight titles. “It’s a joyous thing,” Ham said. “I’m proud of him.”

Too Sharp Johnson’s win, he is 42-3 with 27 knockouts and one no contest, illustrates why fighters like the 41-year-old Evander Holyfield are still fighting and why Roy Jones, a former middleweight champion, can win the heavyweight title. There simply are not that many good boxers around, period.

It’s difficult to find boxers who are considered craftsmen and intelligent ring technicians. Given the right circumstances, veteran fighters with skills and experience still have a chance to be a world champion.

Too Sharp, once considered one of the best fighters, was a former world champion in the flyweight (112 pound) and junior bantamweight (115 pound) divisions. By the end of 1999, he was the reigning IBF junior bantamweight champion and had a 38-1 record. At the time he talked about moving up to some big fights and making some big money against the likes of Johnny Tapia or even Prince Naseem Hamed.

Personal and professional setbacks — a year in jail on a probation violation resulting from a domestic violence investigation involving his wife (now his ex-wife), followed by two straight losses to Rafael Marquez at 118 pounds in 2001 and 2002 — kept the big fights from happening. At 32, Too Sharp was considered too old and washed up.

That reputation made him an acceptable “opponent” for the 24-year-old Montiel (26-1-1), who saw Too Sharp as a marquee “name” who was past his prime. He didn’t see Too Sharp for what he was — too dangerous.

Fighting at his old weight of 115 pounds, Too Sharp, a southpaw, outboxed Montiel early in the fight. He used a stiff right jab and dropped Montiel with a right hand in the fifth round. Montiel came back and won the later rounds, but it was too late. Two judges scored the fight 117-110 and 115-112 for Too Sharp. The third judge had the fight scored even.

“It was a technical fight,” Ham said. “We tried to offset the guy. Every time he tried to punch, we did a little fake walk away, like Jersey Joe Walcott would do, and then come back and hit him. That is how Jersey Joe knocked out Joe Louis. And everything worked behind the jab.”

Too Sharp appeared to run out of gas late in the fight. Afterward he said he hurt his left arm in the third round. He speculated it could have been a torn muscle and was at the doctor’s office yesterday getting it checked out. Ham said his son did not tire and was in the best shape he had been in years. “We could have made 112 pounds,” Ham said. “We took off a day, and we still made 115 pounds. He was in that good shape.”

Oh, if Too Sharp was 100 pounds heavier.

“Mark is too damned good and too damned small,” Ham said. “If he was a heavyweight, we would be riding around in limos and Rolls Royces, but I’m still driving my Chevy.”

The Johnsons have always fought boxing’s power establishment that often takes advantage of fighters. They stayed away from the Don Kings and Bob Arums and tried to operate on their terms. Too Sharp even headed west from 1993 to 1996 to make a name for himself fighting the talented lighter weight Hispanic boxers in California. However, he paid the price and never got a chance at the big payday that even some of the lighter weight boxers earn with the right fight. Too Sharp earned just $85,000 when he defeated Ratanachai Vorapin for the IBF junior bantamweight title at MCI Center in April 1999.

It appeared Too Sharp missed his turn at the big money — until Saturday that is. Now he is back in the game with possible big-time opponents — flyweight champion Eric Morel or maybe a unification bout with World Boxing Association junior bantamweight champion Luis Perez. “We want to fight as soon as possible,” Ham said.

Too Sharp’s win also helped Washington fighters, who have taken some hits over the last two years, going from four world champions to none until Saturday. And Ham Johnson, a big part of the Washington boxing scene over the years, hopes to reestablish Washington’s boxing tradition. He and partner Robert Simo, along with the help of Nomis Youth Network, are refurbishing James Finley’s old boxing gym and hope to reopen it soon and purchase equipment for it. They will hold a fund-raising dinner for the gym on Sept.12 at RFK Stadium’s Rose Room.

The gym is a special place. It is where Too Sharp honed his skills to become a world-class fighter. And he is a world-class fighter again, in part because there aren’t that many left in the class.

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