By Evan Ren
Killeen Daily Herald
Both undefeated as professional fighters, Killeen's Marcus "Too Much" Johnson and his brother, "King" James Johnson Jr., are about to attend a graduation of sorts.
At least, that's the way they see it, heading into "The Rumble on the River," an eight-fight boxing card at the University of Texas' Erwin Center beginning tonight at 7.
Headlining the event, Marcus (7-0, 6 KOs) will take on journeyman Etienne "ET" Whitaker (32-20-2) for the NABF Texas Light-Heavyweight Championship. In the semi-main event, James (5-0, 5 KOs) squares off with Garland native Billy Thompson (7-4, 4 KOs).
The bouts represent a step up in competition for both brothers, who have yet to fight anyone professionally with a winning record, or with more than three career knockouts.
"You can't get to the top by staying at the bottom," said the Johnsons' father, James Sr., who serves as the trainer for both fighters. "In order to get where we want to get, we need to start stepping the competition up."
In Whitaker, Marcus figures to get exactly that – at least in relative terms.
A seasoned professional, Whitaker has traded blows with several highly regarded light-heavyweights, including Rudy Markusson (33-1, 20 KOs), Allan Green (20-0, 14 KOs), Troy Ross (13-1, 9 KOs), Paul Briggs (24-2, 18 KOs), Tracy Sneed (22-1, 16 KOs), Damon McCreary (11-0, 8 KOs), Jaidon Codrington (9-1, 9 KOs), Rico Hoye (19-1, 14 KOs) and Chris Henry (13-0, 12 KOs).
Unfortunately for Whitaker, he failed to beat any of them, losing via knockout in eight of the nine fights. The Warren, Ohio, native enters tonight's bout on a six-fight losing streak, and hasn't posted a win since Nov. 11 of 2004, when he KO'd Anthony Spain (8-10) in the second round.
In other words, Whitaker's knowledge may be extensive, but his chin is clay.
"He's been around and he's got a lot of experience," James Sr., said. "But I figure within 2-3 rounds it should be over."
Nonetheless, Whitaker has more victories than the rest of Marcus' previous opponents combined, and a title belt is on the line.
Toss in the fact that the bout will be within driving distance of Killeen at a premium venue, and the entire Johnson team is speaking of reaching a new plateau.
"This is what we've been waiting for," said the 19-year-old Marcus, who graduated from Ellison in 2004. "It's the best thing that could happen. It's finally here, and I'll make the most of it."
In a strategic sense, however, the plan remains unchanged.
Following a pattern he has used through his first seven fights, Marcus will use the opening round to study Whitaker, seeking weakness. Once found, he plans to exploit it with violent combinations – the same strategy he used to dispatch six of his opponents in three rounds or less.
"I'm just going to go in there and do what I always do," Marcus said. "As far as that's (concerned), it's no different than any other fight."
James Jr. may have a more difficult task, but is taking the same approach in his super middleweight bout with the sturdy Thompson.
Through 11 professional bouts, Thompson has been stopped only once, and is the only man to go the distance with highly touted Adam Hubinger (11-0, 10 KOs). Despite the potential threat, however, James Jr. hasn't studied a frame of film on Thompson, and that's just the way he wants it.
"I like to get as little information as possible about a guy," said the 23-year-old Killeen High School graduate. "I like to find out about them in the ring.
"When I step up to a better opponent, I step up my game. The better my opponents are, the better I'll fight."
Regardless of the outcome, there should be no shortage of supporters in the Johnson camp.
When asked how many friends and family would attend the bouts, the Johnsons' estimates ranged from "a lot," to "a whole bunch."
One local church alone, with whom the Johnsons are associated, bought more than 100 tickets and will travel to Austin in a 40-car caravan.
The next time the Johnsons fight near Killeen, the group is thinking of chartering a bus.
"We're looking to represent Killeen, but we eventually want to represent Texas, the United States and then the world," James Sr. said. "If we get a lot of people from Killeen, that will be great, but we want to represent all of Texas.
"We want Texas to know that we represent them so they'll come out and support us. That's how you sell tickets."
n BODY SHOTS – Both of the Johnson brothers remain under contract with Don King Productions, but tonight's bouts are being promoted by Austin's Richard Lord, with the blessing of DKP. ... The Johnson brothers continue to train both in Killeen and in the Houston camp of renowned boxing guru James Prince, who has in his stable such names as Floyd Mayweather and Winky Wright. ... At 7-0, Marcus is ranked 65th in the world by Box Rec.com out of 814 light-heavyweights ... At 5-0, James is ranked 432nd out of 758 super middleweights. ... Marcus will be paid $2,500 for tonight's bout; James will collect $1,500. ... Quotable: "We've taken everyone seriously. That's why they've all been stopped in the first and second rounds. We don't take anyone lightly. That's not the name of the game." – James Sr., on the possibility of his sons overlooking an opponent.
Contact Evan Ren at firstname.lastname@example.org