Amateur star Anthony Johns ready to ‘shake the building’ in Newark comeback fight
Anthony Johns recalled what it was like to watch his New Jersey teammates, Raymond Ford and Adam Ali, walk through the airport with the Golden Gloves national championship belt in years past, drawing attention and the adoration of the spectators as they returned home.
“The sight of them walking through the airport with the belt inspired me. I said, ‘I’m winning this championship,'” Newark, NJ native John (2-0, 2 KOs) recalled of his state of mind before the 2019 National Golden Gloves.
Johns had narrowly failed in years past, losing in the quarter-finals in his first national tournament and then in the semi-finals the following year.
He was determined to bring that title back to his father, Anthony Williams, who reached the final of the 1998 National Golden Gloves Finals but did not win the title. Williams, who has been training her son since he was a young boy, was unable to make it to the tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee after breaking six ribs in a motorcycle accident that week.
This week ended with Johns walking the airport himself as the 108-pound national champion.
Johns finally gets his comeback fight, this time as a professional, when he takes on Gilberto Duran in a four-round bantamweight bout at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, NJ. The fight will be part of a card promoted by Rising Star Promotions, which is managed by professional boxer Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna.
“He’s a little taller than me, he’s long but I’ll beat his body,” said Johns of Duran (4-5, 4 KOs) of Yakima, Wash.
For Johns, 29, finding opponents is often the toughest battle in the sport. In his first two fights, Johns fought as a flyweight and junior flyweight, but moves up to bantamweight for this fight. He says that’s partly due to the scarcity of smaller opponents in the United States and to test the waters at a higher weight class.
“I want to test to see how I feel up there because I want to win multiple divisions eventually and I want to test how I feel right now,” Johns said. “I’m going back down. It’s just that right now it’s hard to try to find opponents.
Johns is familiar with this fight, which he has dealt with since the amateurs. Since turning pro, he’s had three fights, the most recent being a comeback fight at the Prudential Center last Christmas that didn’t materialize.
“That’s what amateurs prepare you for, the ups and downs. Because of my weight, it was difficult for me to find fights, especially here. I’ve always had to spare heavier guys, but it built character in me to know that no one can fuck with me,” Johns said.
Despite all his frustrations, boxing is the sport that gave John direction in life. Although he grew up in the boxing gym, Johns didn’t take the sport seriously until he was 19 years old.
“I was just going the wrong way. I wasn’t really focused on anything. I was just out there doing some bullshit. I always knew I could fight and I started seeing some of my friends borrow the wrong way and I didn’t want to end up like them,” said Johns, who grew up in Newark’s North End with his older sister and two younger brothers.
“I decided to lock myself in and focus on boxing.”
It was then that he launched into an amateur teardrop that saw him win five New Jersey Golden Gloves titles and five Diamond Gloves titles.
In addition to his father, Johns also works with another Newark amateur legend, Jerson Ravelo, who has known Johns since he was a young boy accompanying his father to Red Brick Boxing Gym. Ravelo says Johns is good at following instructions and has the right mindset to go far in the sport.
“He can punch, he has speed. He listens, which is the most important thing,” said Ravelo, who won the middleweight championship at the same National Golden Gloves where Johns’ father made the final.
Now Johns has the opportunity to show his hometown fans what he’s made of.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I feel like everything is coming together at the right time. I just feel like everything is lining up right. We’re going to shake the building,” Johns said.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler, Vice and The Guardian, and holds an MA from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]