History will be made the week of June 7 when one of DC's greatest athletes takes his rightful place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
In his first year of eligibility, Three-time world champion Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson will be permanently enshrined in the hall during the induction ceremonies on that weekend, making him the first DC-born boxer to be placed in the hall.
Former Light Heavyweight champion Bob Foster called DC his home while he held the title but he was originally from New Mexico. Former six-time titleholder Sugar Ray Leonard was born in North Carolina.
Johnson's induction class includes former world champion Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, legendary trainer Freddie Roach, noted ring announcer Michael Buffer, prolific boxing writer Michael Katz and well-known boxing commentator Al Bernstein. For Johnson (44-5, 28 KO's), the honor is a culmination of a career that was full of historical achievements. After a successful amateur career that included a National Golden Gloves title in 1988, Johnson started his career on February 24, 1990 in Lorain, Ohio winning by third-round TKO over Ray Gonzalez.
After a loss to an Irish fighter named Richie Wenton by decision in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, Johnson made his DC debut with a first-round knockout over Wayne Johnson in January of 1991. While Johnson was very successful fighting in the DC area – winning his next 12 bouts – Johnson and his father/trainer Ham Johnson knew that something had to be done to elevate his career because the competition in the Flyweight division (112 pounds) was not plentiful on the East Coast of the US. So the Johnson's headed west, signing a contract with Forum Boxing of Los Angeles, CA.
In just his second bout in California, Johnson waged war against Alberto "Raton" Jimenez of Mexico on May 18, 1993 at the old Great Western Forum in Inglewood, CA. The two fought fiercely for 12 solid rounds before Johnson won a split decision and his first regional title – the World Boxing Association Penta-Continental Flyweight championship.
The win put Johnson on the map in the boxing world and made him a very popular man out west, but it made him an extremely feared man in the sport. No world champion at the time would dare give Johnson a title shot. Johnson fought 14 more bouts over an almost three-year period after the Jimenez fight (during that same period Jimenez would capture the WBO Flyweight title) before he finally received an opportunity for a title bout. It only took 95 seconds for Johnson to cash in on that opportunity.
The date was May 4, 1996 and the place was the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, CA. Johnson faced former world champion Francisco Tejedor for the vacant International Boxing Federation (IBF) Flyweight title. Johnson landed a left hand midway through the first round that stunned Tejedor and dropped him to the canvas.
Tejedor tried valiantly to get up but couldn't and Johnson made history by being the first African-American and the second American to win the flyweight title, a championship normally reserved for boxers from Latin American or Asian countries. Johnson would defend his title seven times, including a memorable title defense in DC on February 22, 1998 at the DC Armory in front of a nationally-televised ESPN2 audience.
Johnson would knock out Arthur "Flash" Johnson in the first round. Along the way, Mark Johnson would be regarded as one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world by major boxing media, the last DC-area boxer to earn that distinction. Ring Magazine would later call Johnson the best flyweight of the 1990's, in part because many of the other top flyweights of that era would not step in the ring with him.
Johnson vacated the IBF Flyweight title captured the vacant IBF Super Flyweight championship in his home town on April 24, 1999 at the MCI (now Verizon) Center, defeating Ratanachai Sor Vorapin by 12-round decision. Johnson defended that title twice before being forced to vacate that title in January of 2000.
Johnson violated his probation of an earlier drug charge because of an altercation with his then-wife and mother of two of his children. Johnson served 11 months in prison coming out in December of 2000. Johnson competed as a bantamweight and lost two high-profile bouts to future champion Rafael Marquez. Johnson then dropped back down to 115 pounds and won his third world title – The WBO Super Flyweight title in August of 2003.
There is a bus trip that will be heading to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY on Saturday, June 9 and returning on Sunday, June 10. Tickets are $175 and will include roundtrip transportation, hotel (based on double occupancy), ticket to Hall of Fame Museum and ticket to hall of fame induction ceremony. Call 202-528-7694 for details.