Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson IBF World title and defended it successfully 11 times! You might refer to him as the “Lone Ranger!” He had no entourage and no one carrying his bags for him. “When I was asked about no one carrying my bags I told them if I have to pay a friend to do that then he isn’t much of a friend,” said Johnson.
Being from Evansville, IND, at age 22 he moved to Detroit, MI, Johnson was fighting in an amateur tournament when Manny Steward noticed him and told him “if you ever turned pro come and see me”. When he asked if Johnson had won any National tournaments and found out he didn’t he was told “you will never make it as a pro.” When Johnson won his second pro fight in November of 1986 in Sterling Heights, MI, Steward was there. He brought Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns with him and asked Johnson if he would be interested in signing with him. Johnson told him “I already signed with promoter Johnny Ace (small time promoter)”.
Johnson would go on winning his first 7 fights with 5 knockouts all in Sterling Heights at the Premier Center. In his next fight he was at a weigh-in and a boxer named Troy Dorsey’s opponent fell out. So Johnson said he’d fill in. It was an 8 round bout with Dorsey having a 3-1-1 record but holding the World Kick Boxing title so he wasn’t a stranger to the ring. Johnson took a split decision win.
That was in 1987 and they would meet again in 1990 with Johnson 20-1-1 and Dorsey 11-3-3. The rematch was in Fort Worth, TX, the area Dorsey was from for Dorsey’s NABF title. The bout ended in a draw with Johnson getting one of the judge’s votes and the other two called it a draw. “Dorsey was strong and put his weight on you and never stopped coming at you. He was the toughest guy I fought,” said Johnson.
Johnson was 20-0-1 when he lost to Harold Warren by split decision at a country club in NY. The Warren fight was a learning thing. I was getting a big head and thought I won but it helped me,” said Johnson.
Dorsey was the No. 1 contender at the time and was hoping to fight Jorge Paez for his world title. Paez decided to vacate the title putting a damper on Dorsey’s hopes to fight for the world title. This time the fight ended in a draw. “It was a letdown not fighting for the world title and I may have gotten the draw because it was in my hometown,” said Dorsey. Dorsey would fight the No. 2 contender Alfred Rangel for the vacant IBF featherweight title and score a second round knockout.
Johnson would go onto win his next 5 bouts in 5 different states and knocked out all of his opponents and he was 26-1-1. He would get a title fight with Manuel Medina, 41-3 of Mexico who beat Dorsey for the title. This was a brutal fight especially with the body work of both fighters. On 3 occasions Medina landed low punches to Johnson. He lost a point once and another referee Lou Moret though right in front of both fighters didn’t call a low blow.
In the ninth round an accidental head butt open a bad cut on Medina’s eyebrow over his left eye. The ring physician started checking Johnson when he went to a neutral corner. Then examined Medina and the fight got stopped so they went to the scorecards. The scores were 76-75, 79-75 and 78-74 all for Medina. This writer had it 78-74 Johnson. IBF rules were the challenger could not win the title on a technical draw which may have influenced the judge’s though their scorecards are handed in after each round. “I should have walked out of the ring with the title,” said Johnson.
“I would never be one of those guys who had to be the center of attention. I did my talking in the ring,” said Johnson. He had been asked to move from Detroit but said “I didn’t want to move and leave everything behind. I was somewhat self-managed,” said Johnson.
Four wins and 15 months later Johnson got his rematch with Medina on February of 1993 with Medina’s promoter holding it in France. This time it was different with Johnson winning the IBF featherweight title! “There’s something about being champ and finally recognized by others,” said Johnson. It would be 6 months before he had another fight but a non-title fight defeating Dominican Jose Garcia, 33-3, in Atlantic City. Just 18 days later he was defending his title against Colombian Sugar Baby Rojas, 37-7-1, in Miami Beach where Rojas was residing. Johnson won by decision.
Just 2 months later Johnson was in France fighting the European champion Stephane Haccoun, 27-1-1, who he stopped. Just 3 months later staring 1994 off with a bang he defeated Orlando Soto, 22-0, from Panama in St. Louis. “He hit me with about 6 low blows,” said Johnson. In 4 months he was back in Atlantic City fighting Philly’s Benny Amparo, 12-2-5, stopping him. Amparo just went into the PA BHOF this year.
Johnson would have 3 straight title defenses at Bally’s in Atlantic City defending his title for the fifth time defeating Francisco Segura, 25-6-1. Just 3 months later he would meet Medina, 49-5, for the third time winning a decision. “I knew what to expect by now and prepared well for this fight,” said Johnson.
Johnson finally fought in his home state in Auburn Hills 3 months later in a non-title bout scoring a knockout and a month later almost to the day defended his title against Eddie Croft, 22-1-1, in South Padre Island, TX, winning by decision. He had a style just like mine and we spent the first half of the fight trying to figure out each other. “My corner said “go out and do what you do best”, said Johnson. In December of 1995 Johnson defeated Puerto Rico’s Jose Badillo, 17-0, by majority decision. “He thumbed me in the left eye fracturing a bone and knocked me down twice in the same eleventh round,” said Johnson.
Just 3 months later Johnson was back in the ring in the UK stopping Colombian Ever Beleno, 32-1, with 30 seconds to go in the fight. “He dropped me in the first 30 seconds of the fight and I stopped him with 30 seconds to go,” said Johnson. Six weeks later he was in France knocking out the Argentina champion Claudio Victor Martinet, 44-5-2, in his tenth defense. “I defended my title 5 times in one year,” said Johnson. Four months later he was in Dublin, Ireland, defeating Ramon Guzman, 22-5, of VZ, for his eleventh title defense. Next would be a non-title bout at the end of 1996 that ended in a technical draw against Mexican Javier Marquez, 40-20-3, after bumping heads and Marquez couldn’t continue. They didn’t put in enough rounds for a decision.
In February of 1997 some 2 months later Johnson finally had his 11 straight defense streak stopped losing to the WBO champion Naseem “Prince” Hamed, 24-0, in his home base of the UK in the eighth round. “I was knocked down and the referee Rudy Battle (now PA Boxing Commissioner) asked me “how are you doing champ?” Then that fast he said “you don’t understand I have to stop the fight,” said Johnson. Battle and I would talk when we saw each other but after that fight I may have seen him 4 times and every time when he saw me he turned around and went the other way,” said Johnson. Welcome to the crooked business of boxing!
There was no way Johnson was getting a rematch from Hamed so he took a fight 5 months later in Nashville defeating Vincent Howard, 13-2-2. Then he lost a majority decision to Venezuela’s Santos Rebolledo, 14-2-2, in Miami Beach. After defeating Mexican veteran Javier Diaz, 45-43-4, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Johnson went to Denmark, for the IBC super featherweight title. He lost a decision to Dennis Holbaek Pederson, 28-0, of Denmark.
Johnson finally fought in Detroit stopping Mexican Jose Luis Montes, 19-18. Just 3 months later in Grand Rapids, MI, he lost to Junior Jones, 44-4, who after defeating Marco Antonio Barrera twice lost the WBO title and in his next fight was stopped again for the WBC title. Johnson was back to the UK losing to Charles Shepherd, 17-6, the British and Commonwealth champion. In April of 2000 he won back to back fights in Aruba and Auburn Hills.
Johnson was back in the UK losing to Scott Harrison, 10-1-1, British Empire champ who in his previous fight defeated Tracy Harris Patterson, both the former WBC Super bantamweight and IBF super featherweight champion. Harrison would be a WBO featherweight champion after that. Johnson won back to back fights before some 3 weeks later fighting for the NABF super featherweight title in Austin, TX, losing to Jesus Chavez, 33-1, and Johnson could not come out for the eighth round. Chavez would lose to Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather, Jr., in his next fight but would go onto win the WBC super featherweight championship.
It would be almost one year to the day before Johnson fought what would be his career ending fight in Lemoore, CA, to Jorge Paez, 70-14-5, former WBO and IBF featherweight champion. “Paez was my idol,” said Johnson.
When I mentioned I’m about 30 minutes from Ali’s Deer Lake camp now a Bed & Breakfast bought by Oakland’s former coach John Madden’s son. Johnson replied “I met Ali in 1983 at Don King’s training camp in Ohio. I told him “you were the only one doing the things you did to become a world champion. I also saw him in Atlantic City when I heard “the champ is here, the champ is here”, said Johnson.
I want to thank Bobby Goodman who followed in his father’s footsteps at Madison Square Garden doing the matchmaking to give me the contact number for Johnson. “I met Bobby Goodman around 1987,” said Johnson. He trained all over. He lived in Detroit and trained in New York or wherever he was asked to train. He was always available.
“He (Johnson) had a lot of successful world title defenses (11) and he wasn’t a homer. His title defenses were on the road. He went into everybody’s back yard. He was always a hard worker who knew he would have to train hard. We were very close and I was proud of his efforts,” said Bobby Goodman.
“I can’t convince someone else I believe in him if I don’t believe in myself first,” said Johnson. After defeating Medina in the rematch for the IBF title Johnson defended in such places as Atlantic City (4x), Miami Beach, Marseille, France (2x), St. Louis, Auburn Hills MI, South Padre Island, TX, Stuttgart, Germany, UK, Dublin, IRE, and back to the UK where he lost his title to Naseem “The Prince” Hamad, 24-0. He fought 19 times of which 14 were his first fights in MI and 7 in Atlantic City.
Johnson would go 7-7 in his last 14 fights of which 4 of his opponents held world titles during their careers. He had fights in Denmark, Aruba and two in UK. “The most skilled fighter I ever fought was Manuel Medina,” said Johnson.
Johnson had a string of trainers and though he more or less was self-managed he had managers and advisors as well as promoters. I asked him about them. “Robert Mitchell was my closest being like a father figure that I never had. I met him when I was 22. He was my first trainer. Once he passed away Joey Fariello took over. Though I lived in Detroit I spent a lot of time training in New York where he was out of. I had Vonzell Johnson as my trainer. Others involved were Greg Coverson, Duke Durden and Jason Mrozek who was a friend. I still walk with a limp and almost lost an eye while in a car accident prior to turning professional. I had an enlarged heart, ulcer and bronchitis during my career,” said Johnson.
Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson belongs in the IBHOF!