Johnson, Cokes talk
Q&A: Kirk Johnson alongside his trainer, former World Champion & Hall of Famer Curtis Cokes
Story by Jeff Zimmerman
Photos by Robert Houghes
Former heavyweight contender Kirk Johnson (36-2-1), who has fought the likes of Vitali Klitschko and John Ruiz, and his legendary trainer and former undisputed Welterweight World Champion and Hall-of-Famer Curtis Cokes were all smiles and full of laughter yesterday at Cokes’ Home of Champions Gym in south Dallas as Johnson prepares to fight on Thursday night on Paulie Ayala’s promotions, Speedway Fight Night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Although Johnson has not fought in four years he has kept busy training with Cokes while several fights have fallen through. Even at 37 years old, he still believes, like Cokes, that he still has a chance at a world title in the muddled heavyweight division. Johnson and Cokes both share some thoughts on their upcoming fight and what the future may hold.
You haven’t fought in 4 years after the knee injury in your fight with Javier Mora [Johnson interrupts: Why do you have to remind me I haven’t fought in 4 years?] I am curious, is this a big comeback for you?
Johnson: Well you know, to me this is not a comeback because we have been training for the last 3 ½ years [he looks at Cokes for confirmation and Cokes starts laughing]. You know we have been training the same way we would prepare for a fight back in the day. I have been coming to camp 7-8 weeks, going back home 2 months, coming back to camp. We had a few fights signed that didn’t work out because of two things: it didn’t work out because of certain opponents I didn’t want to fight at that particular time; I wasn’t secure with my knee. And then certain opponents we didn’t like the stakes, we didn’t like we had to fight them in their hometown and whatever. And when I was ready to fight everybody, anybody, these certain opponents they chose other guys they felt were lesser than me, so whatever. We have been trying to fight the whole time, the last 3 ½ years, we have been training the whole time. So things just didn’t happen. I am just happy that something is able to happen right now.
When you look at the current heavyweight division and all the different champions, does it give you hope that you still have a chance to win a title?
Johnson: If I was in the Mike Tyson era I still would have had hope. If I was in Joe Louis days, I don’t care what Curtis says, because he’s going to say “nah Bubba” [laughter from Johnson and Cokes], but I would have still had hope. See people look at it differently, people see so many different champions, the division is different that it was years ago. I look at it this way, years ago if you could have one man rule for 12 years, that means the competition around isn’t as good, but today you have world champions changing all the time, that means you have a little different talent that is able to get that crown a little quicker. You have more titles out there; I think its more opportunity for fighters to get an opportunity to fight for the championship of the world. The one champion only has to fight the mandatory once a year, but if you have 4 different champions, well then you have more opportunity. I like it the way it is right now because everybody, there is more opportunity for everybody to get a shot at the world title.
Is there anyone that you are targeting or that you want to fight in the near future?
Johnson: You got Klitschko that beat me, you got the brother and you got David Haye. All of them are fights that I would love to do. If it was a perfect world, what order I would like them to be in – the brother first and then fight Haye and then the big brother is going to want revenge for the younger brother and then fight the big brother in a big mega fight. He will want to avenge his brother, but for Kirk Johnson it is revenge. If it was a perfect world, I would want to end up like that. So whatever way I get back to it, I will take it. But the main thing is, I know I need to be ready and this is our process right now to make sure we’re ready.
Any chance you could fight Evander Holyfield?
Johnson: You know, we were supposed to fight Holyfield 2 or 3 separate occasions but his camp felt our style wasn’t the type of style he needed to fight. I agree with him. I am a fast hand fighter and a great mover or what have you. Style wise, he’s a guy that likes guys to go a little more toe to toe, style wise he didn’t want to fight us. I would love to fight Holyfield the legend, at the same time I like Holyfield, he is one of my role models and he’s a good guy and we’re pretty good buddies. I mean every time he sees me he always stands up and shakes my hand. He’s not one of those guys where I say, oh yea I got to fight Holyfield. If he were the champion, I would love to fight him, but he’s not the champion so I am not really concerned about that, I just want to get to the world title.
What about your opponent this Thursday, Douglas Robertson, who doesn’t come in with a very good record? What do you expect to gain from this fight?
I don’t really know a whole lot about him. I am just going to go in there and do what I can do. His record is not the best, but I don’t care about his record due to the fact he has fought all these many fights and he was brave enough to do so and he is still brave enough to fight me. He probably feels as a human being that he has as much of a chance of doing something to me that I have to do to him, so I will go in there and do the best that I can do. And if my best is good enough, I will come out victorious. I am not the type of fighter that says I am going to knock him out or do this, that’s not me, it never was me.
Do you have a timetable for getting rated again and in line for a title fight?
Johnson: I would hope in the next 3 to 4 months we will be able to get a good fight that will put us right back in the spotlight. But as far as winning the championship of the world, the only timetable I have, as long as I win it, that’s the main thing. I don’t have to go back and become a rookie no more, I have all the experience in the world, I am healthy right now and I am ready to go do.
How much longer do you see yourself fighting?
Johnson: I don’t know. I remember when I was 22 years old and someone said you are going to retire when you’re 30 – I said yea – that’s a perfect world. If everything would have gone exactly how I wanted it to go, I would have retired at 30, probably. I would have made 100 million dollars, by the age of 30, like De La Hoya did, yea but life did not go perfect. I just realize now every career goes on and a lot of things that go on are not planned, you just do the best you can do, so right now, whatever happens to me happens. So as long as I go in there and do the best that I can do, that’s the main thing.
What is it like training with Curtis Cokes, a living boxing legend?
Johnson: I have been training with Curtis so long; I don’t even think about that no more. I feel good; I have known Curtis for a long time. In fact just before I came down here in ’93 I was reading this book and I saw this guy with his eye closed up, big swollen eye and never seen him fight but had always seen pictures of him so my father said you are not signing with Donald Curry or those guys unless they have someone that is older to work with me. So all of sudden Donald Curry got Curtis Cokes, so Curtis Cokes, I didn’t specifically remember the name but when I saw him, then it was, oh, that’s the guy who had his eye closed up [laughter erupted from Johnson & Cokes – Cokes added “That’s the only thing you could remember? Well I am going to give you something else to remember, I am going to give you an uppercut!”]. You know with me being so young, it was damn, I am training with this old guy, right, and then I realized he was the world champ for 3 years, back in the old days when these guys fought, everybody wanted to kill them, today 4 different world titles, certain people want to kill this guy or that guy, but he was in a era, where he was one man, the champion, EVERYBODY who was fighting at the welterweight division wanted just one person, Curtis Cokes. So you know, he’s a historical guy and I will give him credit after I retire, after I win the world title and retire then I will give him a little credit, but right now all the sparring rounds he gets me to do, he don’t deserve no credit [Cokes laughs in the background].
Curtis, you have been working with Kirk for a long time now and he hasn’t fought in a few years, what are you seeing in training and what are your hopes for him in the future?
Cokes: Well you know, I really believe that Kirk, he didn’t get beat up when he was fighting, he never took any beatings in the ring, so he’s still got everything. He still has his speed; he still has the desire to fight. All we need is someone to ring the bell, we are ready to go.
Is there any of the current Heavyweight Champions that you would like Kirk to fight in the near future?
Cokes: There is no one in particular, we just want to fight somebody that has a name, that could make us step up and be recognized a little bit, any of them. Right now, we would have to fight whoever they would call.
After this fight, do you have other fights planned for Kirk?
Cokes: We don’t have anything planned, but the phone is always ringing and we’ll take anything we can get, until we get to a point where we can pick and choose who we want to fight, right now we cannot do that.
Where do rate him out there in the world today – top 10, top 15– based on what you see in the gym? And at his age do you see his skills translating against some of the top contenders?
Cokes: Yea, after couple of fights, they could just call some names and we’ll be able to go and fight them. Kirk hasn’t lost a step; he hasn’t lost any desire, that’s what you have to have, so I think the guy is ready to make a move. And somebody just needs to ring the bell and let us go.
What about the guy [Douglas Robertson] he is fighting Thursday night, a record of 3-23?
Cokes: That’s a bad man; I don’t know where they get such a bad fighter for us to fight [Curtis laughing]. If I could have got the guy, he would have been on his way to the graveyard before we put him in, then we’ll fight him. No, it really doesn’t make any difference who it is or how many wins or losses they have, it just Kirk gets up there and looks good and gets him out of there early, so we can go home.
Are you working with any other contenders at the moment?
Cokes: Not contenders, but I have a lot of young guys that I am working with. Anthony Wilson, the guy I was just talking to, I think he is going to be a comer, he is going to be a good fighter.
You have been doing this [boxing] for 50 plus years?
Cokes: Yea because I started in 1958 as a pro and I have been in boxing ever since then.
How much longer?
Cokes: I don’t know, I don’t feel old, I feel younger than these guys, and I can do more than they can up here in this ring. As long as I enjoy, I will continue to do it, I haven’t lost my appetite for boxing.
You were a welterweight 147lbs, how would you fare against the welterweights today, guys like Mosley and Mayweather?
Cokes: The bigger guys it would be tough, you know like a Hearns, big tall guy like that would probably give me some problems, but I think I could fight with all those guys. They don’t show me nothing new, they don’t show me nothing old. See, boxing is a sport and these guys think its something else, it’s a fight, but it’s not, it’s a sport and you have to have some intelligence to get up there and box. It’s professional boxing, not professional fighting. These guys just go up there and fight and throw punches, they don’t know what their doing. I’ve got a PHD in this shit. I got a PHD, so I know what to do, they don’t.
For the record, Curtis Cokes is picking Mosley over Mayweather and if the fight ever occurs, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, he is picking Pacquiao.
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Tickets for Thursday’s “Speedway Fight Night” event are priced at $100 VIP, $35 Reserved and $20 General Admission. VIP Tickets include a VIP Pre-Fight Reception and premium seating. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations, including online at www.ticketmaster.com. The gates open at 6:30p and the first fight starts at 7:30 pm.