Johnson seeks redemption down under

Once beaten American Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson (25-1-1, 11 KOs) returns to the ring this weekend in Australia hoping to rekindle his status as one of America’s few notable heavyweight contenders. Johnson, who lost virtually every round in his 2009 title challenge against WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, is scheduled to face Alex Leapai (25-3-3, 20 KOs) for the IBF Australian heavyweight title.

Once regarded as America’s top heavyweight prospect, Johnson’s career suffered a huge setback when he was shut out versus Klitschko. For fight fans, it wasn’t necessarily that he lost, but how he lost. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Johnson did his best Muhammad Ali impersonation: he told everyone who would listen he was going to “shock the world.” Yet, when the bell rang, the only thing that ended up shocking everyone was his total lack of effort over the 12-round whitewash.

Johnson had a chance to redeem himself when he signed up for the 2011 Prizefighter International Heavyweights tournament in London. The field was to include notable heavyweights Fres Oquendo and Michael Sprott, as well as up-and-coming Cuban sensation Mike Perez. However, Johnson’s reckless behavior outside the ring caught up with him as he tried to leave the country. He was refused exit by the United States government due to non-payment of child support.

Still, what once caught the eye of Johnson’s admirers has nothing to do with what his home life is like. Johnson has one of the best jabs in the sport, and he’s proven to be a tough competitor when matched against the right competition. His success in the professional ranks is magnified by his lack of amateur experience, and the more ring work he gets against the right competition, the brighter his future can be.

Leapai most certainly is the right kind of competition. He’s beatable but challenging enough to be another rung in the ladder of contention.

While he isn’t a total pushover, the fact of the matter is that his three best wins have come against the kinds of guys who would be happy with any TV exposure. Travis Walker, Owen Beck and Darnell Wilson, who Leapai defeated in 2010, are the types of journeyman heavyweights who litter almost every fighter’s résumé these days.

There is absolutely no shame in fighting guys like that so long as you win, which is what Leapai did.

The problem for Leapai is that his losses and draws have come against even lesser fare: local club fighters and “haven’t-been-yets” hoping for their big break.

That’s good news for Johnson, whose heavyweight future may really just hinge on one thing: racking up the wins. No matter what happened in 2009, and no matter what opportunities he’s squandered in the past, the only thing that really matters is this: Kevin Johnson has only lost one fight in his heavyweight career and it was against the very best in the division.

Johnson’s fate is not yet sealed. As long as he keeps winning, another date with destiny could still come his way. And maybe this time he’ll be ready for it.