Interviews

Published on November 2nd, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Boxing Hall Of Famer, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson Pushing for Boxing Pension Plan Following Recent Ring Tragedies!

In 2012, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He retired with a 44-5 record with 28-wins coming by way of knockout.

Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson has cemented his place in the sport of boxing as well as the records books. “Too Sharp” is the first African American flyweight and super flyweight champion in boxing history. He is one of the greatest fighters to grace those divisions. In 1995 he retired and has since become a trainer. However, he is currently fighting a much greater fight. He’s fighting for the right of fighter’s past and present to receive a pension following their careers. As of now, there is no plan in place for active or retired fighters to put into or receive a pension when their fighting days are over. That’s a statistic, “Too Sharp” is fighting to change. Boxing is a hard hustle, a physically and mentally demanding sport and unlike other sports, once it’s all said and done, fighters walk away with the belts they earned, their pride, little to no fanfare and a slew of medical and emotion issues, but no pension plan or retirement to speak of.

I spoke to the Hall of Famer about the importance of a boxing pension plan and how he plans to meet with congress to improve the quality of life for fighter’s, once their careers are over.

Boxing has had its fair share of dark times here lately. I think we have had 4 deaths this year of fighters passing away from injuries sustained during a fight. I know you are fed up with the lack of medical and financial coverage for fighters.

Mark Johnson: We gotta get this pension thing going with these professional boxers, man. without a pension, these guys are fighting for nothing. These guys are getting killed in the ring. That’s my biggest thing right now. I’m fighting and I want to go to congress. We need one president over boxing, so we could be like football and basketball who have a player’s association president. Everybody deserves to have a pension.

These athletes literally put their life on the line and as much as they entertain us, unfortunately when their careers are over, no one is looking out for them and that’s sad.

Mark Johnson: I was one of the fortunate ones that walked away with all of my faculties in place. I wasn’t a guy that got hit a lot, but I know world-champions that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, fighters that suffer from all types of brain diseases and disorders. I work with the Cleveland Clinic and I want to start working with them as an ambassador. Every year they bring fighters and football players in and check their brain. That’s what we need, man. We need people to care for these fighters and provide them with a pension and they just aren’t getting that. That’s my mission.

Does anyone provide something for the fighters or is this a global problem?

Mark Johnson: Let me say this, I fought in L.A. and if you fight over 70-rounds there, you get a pension. If you have fought over 70-rounds in Los Angeles, California, you can get a pension or one lumpsum of what they have. I also know with the IBF, the IBF does have a pension because they invest your money, but what’s after that. That’s only two entities even attempting something that resembles a pension. With the NBA or the NFL, you can play 6 or 7 years and walk away with a pension. I’m looking at boxers who are messed up from the wear and tear that this sport puts on you both mentally and physically. I’m trying to figure out the best way for boxers to get pensions. I know fighters who didn’t have a spectacular career and in boxing they call them cab drivers, but I’m sitting down right now to figure out the best way for fighters to a pension. Should it be 3-years and at least 30+ fights or 2-years and 24 fights? We gotta do something for these boxers because we’re hurting, man. I was one of the guys who was able to get out, but we’re hurting.

No for sure. When you see some of the former legends of the sport at certain events and Hall of Fame inductions, like you said, sure, you have all of your wits and motor skills, but what about the ones who don’t and unfortunately those guys outweigh guys like yourself.

Mark Johnson: It’s heartbreaking. I see guys who I watched for several years and loved. But when I speak to these guys, these guys can’t talk or formulate a sentence. And it only gets worse because they don’t have the means to be treated after their careers are over. With a pension in place, you could schedule doctor visits, mental health facilities would be available. I’m not comparing what fighters do with what the men and women of our military do, but the trauma can be similar in the fact that, those men and women see things that you aren’t supposed to see. Our head and our bodies are put through things that they are not supposed to be put through, so there is a lot of trauma there as well. And just as a means of not having to fight past your prime. You can retire comfortably with a pension in place. People get mad because in boxing they say, “Hit and don’t get hit.” I was one of those guys that was doing the hitting and barely getting hit and therefore I’m able to communicate with you. But we had boxers that hit and got hit and they can’t communicate with you and we have to take care of those guys.

It’s funny you say that because you see how many people calling, Shakur Stevenson’s performance the other night, boring. But as soon as tragedy strikes in the sport, they are the first to comment on what can we do to make the sport safer. It starts with having great defense. That’s obviously not the end all be all to end some of these tragedies, but it’s a start.

Mark Johnson: What is the difference between, Shakur Stevenson and Caleb Plant? I like both of those guys. All these guys want to do is box the shit out of you for 12-rounds, they are not going to take no punches and they are going to win titles and go on their way. That’s the name of the game. I’m tired of seeing so many fighters have so many different problems that came from boxing and we can’t even help these guys. It’s a great thing that the DC Department of Recreation is big on boxing. That’s why Barry [Hunter] and Boogie [Patrice Harris] have a gym, I have a gym, Darryl Tyson have a gym and Keith Holmes have a gym. We wouldn’t have these gyms in DC, without the DC Department of Recreation. Where would we be at? So, we gotta make sure that, all these fighters that’s retiring… DC Department and Recreation is the model for other fighters that’s retiring. So, we can bring more boxers to recreation centers across the whole world. Other than that, guess what, we have guys who don’t have a dollar who were world-champions. These guys can’t write their own names and they are bumming for money. All of this because they don’t have any form of a pension plan. No other sport is like boxing. You could literally fight for 20-years and walk away with nothing put away on your behalf.

You give so much in this sport and walk away with so little.

Mark Johnson: Ah man, boxing is a sport that you give your all, but when you finish you have nothing. As long as you can make money for the promoters and the managers, you’re great. But as soon as you can’t do that, then it’s a problem.

Who should be pushing for fighters to have pensions because obviously it shouldn’t only be former fighters spearheading this?

Mark Johnson: It should be the promoters, but you know the promoters ain’t going to do that. That’s too much money. The problem is, we need one president like other sports. Until we get that one president, we’re not going to get nothing. Every city and every state have their own commission. That’s where they making money at. I have a government job that I have been on for 15-years. This is what they did for me in DC. They said, “We got this guy and he was a world-champion. We gotta hire this guy to run our boxing gyms.” This isn’t about me. They did the same with Barry, Darryl Tyson and Keith. At least DC is trying. They try to put you in a position where you can maintain and monitor a boxing problem and make sure you can go to the next level. And that is a positive thing and a small step, but it’s not a pension. I want to go to congress with this. I know they are into the middle of a political year, so it will be tough, but early next year, I want to sit down with congressman and get a resolution. More fighters can get on board with me. I need you guys to follow me and get with me. You can email me at [email protected] and let’s go from there.

When a fighter gets knocked out or injured during a fight, the first thing you want to do is make sure you take them to get their checkups and things like that. But after that, when it gets to the point where these guys are dying in the ring and the promoters on those shows can’t even pay for their funeral arrangements, but you’re the promoter of that show… that shows me a lot about that promoter and it shows me a lot about boxing. It shows me that I was in a sport, that’s a gladiator sport and they don’t care nothing about you. There is no reason why, [Jermell] Charlo should have to pay for, Patrick Day’s funeral. I like what, Charlo did. That’s what world-champions do. We gonna step up for our brother and make sure we do it the right way. But why didn’t that promoter on that show step up? You got insurance on the card. Why didn’t you step up? I had a guy fought on the 24th on a Golden Boy show, stopped a guy in the first round, but most importantly, it wasn’t about him winning, it was about me making sure that the guy he fought was okay.



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