Mariusz Wach versus Kevin ‘Kingpin’ Johnson is a bout that wouldn’t usually turn too many heads outside of Poland. However, thanks to the Coronavirus-imposed sporting drought, it’s become pretty big news.
Live from the Palac w Konarach hotel in Konary, southern Poland, on a June 12 pay-per-view card that costs around four pounds after currency conversion, Wach-Johnson will lead boxing’s long-awaited return to Europe.
Fans shouldn’t expect the fight of the century in this ‘vacant Republic of Poland international heavyweight title fight’, but the two 40-year-old fighters have both had long careers around top level.
Last time out, the aptly named Wach dropped a spirited, unanimous decision to Dillian Whyte in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s revenge win over Andy Ruiz Jr.
It’s worth remembering that Wach’s first career loss came via decision in a WBA Super, WBO and IBF heavyweight title fight against Wladimir Klitschko in November 2012. The Pole certainly has pedigree.
Just how much of his bruising, best form remains is up for debate – while the Pole went the distance with a world class opponent last time out, Whyte wasn’t 100% fit and Wach himself appeared sluggish at times.
Similarly, Johnson (34-16-1, 18 KOs) tasted his first ever defeat in a WBC title tilt against Vitali Klitschko (L12) in December 2009. The American has mixed it with some of the best since, albeit cast in the opponent role. In the intervening years, Johnson has travelled the distance with the likes of Andy Ruiz Jr, Kubrat Pulev, Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic and current WBC champion Tyson Fury.
However, since halting Francesco Pianeta in 2017 for the IBO International heavyweight title, Johnson’s performances have looked less and less ambitious. He remains a solid professional who knows every trick in the book, having only been stopped three times in his long career including Anthony Joshua (who blew him out in two rounds in May 2015) and, most recently, Martin Bakole last October.
Johnson’s age, combined with the fact that he has suffered stoppages to Peter Milas (LTKO8) and Bakole in 2018 and 2019, suggest that the American’s time in the sport is perhaps drawing to a close. The American has long been noted for his durability and it was a shock to many when Bakole stopped him at the end of last year with relative ease.
Johnson resembled something of a spent force in that last outing – already sagging on the ropes part way through the second round. The Airdrie-trained Bakole made unusually quick work of him, forcing the referee to intervene in the fifth. Wach lost to Bakole in April 2019, too, surviving just three more rounds.
That vein of recent form suggests both men could be operating on a similar level, though Wach (35-6, 19 KOs) will enjoy height and size advantages.
Johnson has spoken of his desire to retire soon and it’s entirely possible this could be his last fight. While Wach will be a heavy favourite, as the home fighter, it would be good to see ‘Kingpin’ take the fight to him in a bid to finish his career on a high.
Stylistically, Wach may struggle to unpick Johnson’s tricky defence. Johnson is the man with the faster hands and Wach is known to push with his punches, rather than snapping them.
In terms of a prediction, expect a Wach win and the fight to go the full course. A motivated Johnson may try to upset the applecart though that doesn’t seem overwhelmingly likely.
But boxing will finally return to Europe after Covid-19’s intervention and that’s a step worth following.