He's a future Hall of Famer and one of his era's best pound-for-pound boxers, but Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson of Washington also says he's one of the sport's most under-exposed, unappreciated and underpaid.
"It's been a career where, far too often, the big fights didn't happen," said the husband and father of eight who turns 33 on Aug. 13. "It's been frustrating and disgusting at times."
But one of the sport's all-time greatest flyweight (112 pounds) champions is poised for the lucrative payday he has been longing for.
During Wednesday's news conference at the Greenbelt Marriott promoting tonight's non-title fight against Paulino Villalobos (23-24-2, 14 knockouts) at Bowie's Prince George's Stadium, the World Boxing Organization junior bantamweight (115 pounds) champion said he could meet Nicaragua's International Boxing Federation king Luis Perez (22-1, 14 KOs) at New York's Madison Square Garden on Oct. 2.
That clash would take place on the undercard of an HBO-televised Ricardo Mayorga-Felix Trinidad middleweight bout.
"Negotiations started [Tuesday,] between my manager, James Prince, and [promoter] Don King," said Johnson (43-3, 28 KOs), who could earn his fourth title belt in two divisions against Perez and improve to 14-0 in championship fights. "[The purse] doesn't have to be a million dollars, just be my biggest payday."
Johnson goes after his fourth straight win against Villalobos in what he calls a "stay-busy fight" on the undercard of the women's supper middleweight main event in which Laila Ali - daughter of Muhammad Ali - puts her International Boxing Association on the line against Nikki Eplion.
Johnson's largest purse to date ($125,000) is exactly half of what Ali, 26, earned in her previous fight. And some are chagrined by the presence of "a male champion of [Johnson's] magnitude" on the undercard of a women's main event.
"Everyone knows a great champion like me shouldn't be on anyone's undercard," Johnson said. "But sometimes, you have to bend a little to get a lot."
Johnson dethroned IBF champion Francisco Tejedor by first-round knockout in May 1996 to become boxing's first black flyweight titlist. He defended that crown seven times until April 1999, when he rose to win the IBF's 115-pound crown with a unanimous decision over Ratanachai Sor Vorapin at MCI Center.
Johnson's 40-bout winning streak ended only during an unsuccessful rise to bantamweight (118 pounds) and consecutive losses to Rafael Marquez.