One of the most exciting fighters of the 1970’s and 80’s was three time light heavyweight king Marvin Johnson. If ever a fighter lived by the sword and died by the sword, it was Marvin. He was a rangy southpaw who was constantly shuffling toward his opponent. His give and take pressure style created several memorable contests.
Born April 12,1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Marvin would become an accomplished amateur boxer. He was a three time National Golden Gloves champion. He also represented the United States in the 1972 Olympics winning a bronze medal.
Johnson turned professional in 1973 and won his first fifteen bouts. Twelve wins by knockouts. Among his victims were capable fighers like Gary Summerhays, Eddie Owens, Ray Anderson and Tom Bethea. On July 26, 1977 Marvin went to Philadelphia to meet hometown hero Matt Franklin (later to be known as Matthew Saad Muhammad). This was for the North American Boxing Federation light heavyweight title. In an absolute war, Johnson suffered his first defeat as he was halted in the last round. Johnson rebounded by winning five in a row scoring victories against Billy “Dynamite” Douglas and Eddie Davis. Johnson then traveled to Serbia where he lost an eight rounder to Lottie Mwale. Marvin returned stateside and outscored highly regarded Jerry Celestine.
On December 2, 1978 Marvin traveled to Europe and upset Mate Parlov by a tenth round stoppage to win the WBC light heavyweight crown. It was now time for a rematch with Matthew Saad Muhammad. This time though it would be on Johnson’s home turf in Indianapolis. They clashed in April of 1979 and it was again a war ! Muhammad took everything that Johnson had to offer. He then put on a rally and stripped Marvin of his crown in the eighth round.
Johnson was not an ex-champion but not for very long. In November of 1979 he met long time WBA light heavyweight king Victor Galindez. Marvin punished the game Galindez until the fight was stopped in round eleven. Now Johnson had the WBA belt but just for a short time. In March of 1980 Marvin took a beating from an in shape and motivated Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Johnson lost his title in the eleventh. A year later it looked like Johnson was out of the title picture for good after losing to upstart Michael Spinks. Michael had won a Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympics and was streaking toward a world title. Johnson was to be his first stern test. Spinks knocked Marvin out cold with a devastating left hook in round four.
Johnson still believed he could become champion again. From 1982 to 1985 Marvin won fourteen straight. This included a win over Jerome Clouden in a “Closet Classic”. Johnson also defeated Johnny Davis, future champion “Prince” Charles Williams and Eddie Davis for the United States Boxing Association light heavyweight championship. Finally on February 9, 1986 Johnson met the talented Leslie Stewart for the vacant WBA title. Marvin realized his dream of being crowned the champion again in round seven as a badly cut Stewart could not continue. In his first defense Johnson outlasted rugged Jean Marie Emebe to win in the thirteenth round. Next came a 1987 rematch with Stewart. This time Lady Luck was in the Stewart corner. Marvin gave up his crown in the eighth round. It was Johnson’s last fight.
Marvin Johnson had nothing left to prove. He was the first to win the 175 pound title three times. He retired with a 43 – 6 ledger. He won 35 fights by KO. He lost five by the knockout route. Three men he fought, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Victor Galindez and Michael Spinks are inducted in International Boxing Hall Of Fame. Yes Marvin Johnson was a thrilling fighter and a worthy champion.