There is an inherent sadness in the face of a heavyweight gatekeeper, of which Kevin Johnson is currently the foremost practitioner. The brow is heavy, eyes dark and the breathing laboured. Aged 39 now, and with features flattened and softened by years of fists crashing in like waves against a pier, the midriff a little broader, the scales leaning a little further, Johnson cuts a forlorn figure.
In the latest instalment of his decline from unbeaten fringe contender, which he was in 2009 when he fought his only world title fight against Vitaly Klitschko, the grizzlier of the Ukrainian bears, Johnson dipped and rolled to a 10 round shut out defeat to Daniel Dubois.
For much of the television coverage, the wedge of Johnson back filled the screen, his left shoulder turned to hide his chin, the thick roll of tissue joining his ears. Dubois, a quiet, introverted man-child of 21, showed poise and some improved hand speed. When Johnson launched consolation attacks, to offer the mimicry of competition, Dubois took a half step back well, offering evidence of his development and concentration.
The rounds, while superficial in meaning, will prove important in evolving Dubois from novice knockout artist to meaningful contender. Gym rounds, as the visiting heavy bag, or the hosting employer, cannot replicate the reality of a fight in front of an audience and all the nervous energy that can expend. There was much to like in how Dubois maintained the pace and output, some disappointment he couldn’t unduly trouble the veteran with his power when he landed cleanly but it was excellent experience.
But in the cold light of Sunday morning, when Dubois rolls over and swipes through Twitter to read the inevitable criticism there will be of his failure not to flatten the visiting American I would encourage him to be pleased.
Kevin Johnson doesn’t give you much, except the thing you want; rounds.