Reggie Johnson Pays Tribute to Former Foe
Boxing forges many unbreakable bonds.
It may seem odd that you can beat another man to a bloody pulp and then shake his hand after it’s all said and done. But many times after sharing a blood-and-guts battle while both of you are still on your feet, there’s nothing left but to offer the utmost respect for your opponent.
Such is the case of Houston prizefighter Reggie Johnson (44-7-1, 25 KOs), who recently lost not one but two of his fighting compadres in Julio Gonzalez and Will “Stretch” Taylor. Johnson, a two-time champ, faced both of these gladiators inside the four corners. And in his bouts with these two fallen warriors, Reggie was victorious against both. He beat Gonzalez in 2008 winning the IBA Light Heavyweight title and bested Taylor in 2001 (in their rematch) for his NABF and USBA belts. Johnson vs. Gonzalez took place in Lake Charles, Louisiana and ended in a split decision victory for Reggie.
As you can imagine, there is an empty void now in the Texas fighter’s heart. I caught up with the southpaw, whose nickname is “Sweet,” as word of Julio’s passing spread through the boxing community. Reports are that the 35-year-old died Sunday in Mexico after being in a motorcycle crash. Gonzalez (41-8, 25 KOs) was a Southern California favorite during his heyday.
Johnson knew him well–and he will remember him well.
“Michele, Julio and I fought in my very last fight in 2008. We lost a great warrior. And he and I used to spar when I had the IBF 175-pound World Title,” the former champ recalls. “He may have had about 12 to 15 fights then; he then went on to become champ himself.”
Reggie lived in the Los Angeles area for many years in the ’80s. “I trained with Albert Davila, Manuel “Chato” Robles, Ken Norton and others,” the slugger explains. “I also was in the amateurs with guys like Henry Tillman, Lamon Brewster and Paul Gonzales. I went to the Olympic Trials too.”
Johnson is a boxing vet who faced the likes of Roy Jones Jr., Antonio Tarver, James Toney, and more during his pro career that first began in 1984. But of all his many challengers, it was Gonzalez who made one of the biggest impressions on him.
“Julio was a warrior for real! He was 6′ 2″ and fought like a short guy coming right at you with a iron jaw,” says Reggie. “My prayers go out to his family. What is crazy about this whole thing for me is Will Taylor (another guy I fought twice) died about a week before Julio. It’s been one hell of last two weeks for me with all this bad news coming from the boxing community.”
Gone too soon are two more fighters from the brotherhood of boxing.
“We were going to have a rematch,” Reggie reminisces with a catch in his throat. “I had torn my rotator cuff in the 5th round. After the fight, Julio took the mic saying he thought he won so I told him, ‘Let’s rematch!’ Then the next day I saw him again and we had a long talk. We were going to have a rematch…but it never happened.”
Gonzalez’ last fight was in September of last year. Now he will be forever remembered as the WBO and WBC titlist that he once was in his glory.
The Mexican slugger leaves behind family, friends and many fans whose hearts ache in their tragic loss.
Johnson still can’t believe he’s gone. He tells me about the Julio he knew from their wars in the gym as sparring partners and later as foes.
“Julio Gonzalez was a man who set his goals, committed himself to those goals, and pursued his goals with all the ambitition, willpower, and enthusiasm he could muster. They say to make it to the top, you have to want it with all your heart and if that is true Julio Gonzalez had ‘two hearts’ the way way he fought with conviction in every round!” Reggie tells me. “Julio and I are bonded through the ultimate sport and he and I gave the boxing fans 12 rounds of what they paid to see. My heart goes out to his family and friends and all his fans. We lost a great warrior and a great human being. R.I.P. Julio Gonzalez a.k.a. ‘CHAMP’!”
For Johnson himself, he says he hasn’t hung up his gloves just yet. In our phone conversation, Reggie, 45, touches on his recent incarceration for legal issues. “I can’t talk about it a lot since some of the issues are still pending,” he tells me, “but I got out on December 6 and I went straight into the gym!”
His weight was 227, now he’s around 195 and on target for his goal of 175. He wants his championship belt back and plans on being the oldest man after Bernard Hopkins to do so. “I may train in California soon with Jesse Reid and his son,” the pug offers. “I haven’t retired yet–and I hope to fight again.”
For now, while mourning the deaths of his two fellow fighters, Johnson is proud to be able to honor his longtime friend.
“I’m a fighter, not a writer…so thanks again, Michele, for doing this for Julio!” Reggie adds. “He was a great human being with TWO HEARTS.”
As both hearts are now silenced, Johnson will never forget the fighter he went toe to toe with in battle.
Rest in peace, Julio Cesar Gonzalez.
Photos courtesy of Reggie Johnson