In my 45 years of watching boxing, the most avoided fighter I ever saw who weighed less than 118 pounds was the Washington DC native Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. At only 5’3, Johnson was an electric southpaw who was the perfect blend of offensive firepower and defensive wizardry. Not only was he the greatest flyweight I’ve ever seen, he’s also the 34th greatest fighter I’ve seen over the last 45 years.
After a stellar amateur career, Johnson shockingly lost his second career fight to a very nondescript fighter. He then went on a 27-fight winning streak, which earned him a shot at the IBF flyweight title vacated by Danny Romero. Led by his legendary father and trainer Ham Johnson, on May 4, 1996, Johnson faced former champion Francisco Tejedor for the vacant crown. Midway through the opening stanza, Johnson made Tejedor miss with a right hand and then countered with a picture perfect left cross that put the former champion to sleep. The 24-year-old “Too Sharp” became the first and only African American world flyweight champion. The best was yet to come.
After successfully defending his title four times, Johnson faced longtime rival from his amateur days, the slick boxing Arthur Johnson. On February 22, 1998, my father and I watched in anticipation for what looked to be the toughest fight of “Too Sharp’s” career. What amazed my father and me was that it was the first time we saw a championship fight on television where you had a Black ring announcer, a Black referee and two Black combatants in the same fight. Being that the fight took place in “Too Sharp’s” DC hometown, it wasn’t surprising that we were seeing what looked to be a historic event involving nothing but African Americans in the main event. “Too Sharp” once again showed why his offensive and defensive excellence was unparalleled in 112-pound history. Less than a minute into the opening stanza, “Too Sharp,” while backing out of an exchange, landed an awkward and spectacular right hook that immediately stunned Arthur. “Too Sharp” immediately jumped on the challenger and finished him off with a rapid and sizzling three punch combination that put him to sleep. Referee Joseph Cooper could’ve counted to 100 and Arthur still wouldn’t have gotten up. My father that night agreed with my assessment that Mark Johnson was the greatest flyweight I ever saw fight.
Despite his immense talent, “Too Sharp” was unable to secure a huge payday against the two other top Americans of his era at that time, Michael Carbajal and Johnny Tapia. Carbajal refused to move up from Junior flyweight, and Tapia vacated his IBF super flyweight title and moved up to bantamweight, both done to avoid dealing with the tornado that was Johnson. Johnson would defeat Thai contender Ratanachai Sor Vorapin on April 24, 1999 to win the 115-pound title via 12 round unanimous decision. After two successful defenses, Johnson would get caught up in a legal issue that kept him out of the ring for 19 months. When he returned to the ring in the summer of 2001 at the age of 30, he had lost a step. “Too Sharp” was no longer invincible inside the ring.
Johnson would lose consecutive fights to future world bantamweight champion and younger brother of Juan Manuel Marquez, Rafael Marquez. Johnson took the most punishment of his career in both fights. He did find a way to gut out a 12-round decision victory over Fernando Montiel on August 16, 2003, just three days after his 32nd birthday. That would be the final major victory of his career as Mark lost his title 13 months later to Ivan Hernandez before getting knocked out in his final fight against Jhonny Gonzalez. At the age of 34, Johnson officially retired and never looked back. In 2012, at the age of 40, he became the youngest fighter ever inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was the most gifted fighter I ever saw fight at 112 pounds. With blazing hand speed and impenetrable defense, Johnson dominated the 112 and 115-pound divisions while being avoided by several fighters between 1995 and 1999. He was never the same fighter after taking 19 months off due to legal issues, but he was still able to win another 115-pound world title before his skills were completely diminished. Johnson would retire with a record of 44-5-1 with 28 knockouts. He is no doubt more than worthy of being the 34th best fighter of the last 45 years.