RIP, Amos Johnson

By Pete Ehrmann on November 13, 2015
RIP, Amos Johnson
Cassius Clay had his 36-fight winning streak ended when Johnson scored a major upset.

Probably the high water mark in the boxing career of Amos Johnson Jr. was his defeat of Muhammad Ali in the amateurs…

Though he climbed to the lower rungs of the heavyweight Top 10 in the mid-1960s, probably the high water mark in the boxing career of Amos Johnson Jr., who died at 77 on November 4, was his defeat of Muhammad Ali in the amateurs.

It happened in the light heavyweight finals of the U.S. Pan American boxing trials in April 1959. The 17-year-old Louisville boxer then called Cassius Clay had his 36-fight winning streak ended when Johnson, 25, scored a major upset by taking a 2-1 decision at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse in Madison.

As a professional from 1959-’74, “Amos the Atom” went 24-10-2. His biggest win was a verdict over fourth-ranked Henry Cooper (in London, no less) in ‘65. “I beat Cassius Clay before and I can take him again,” Johnson said then, but within a year his career was in freefall. He lost to Brian London, Sonny Liston, Oscar Bonavena and Leotis Martin.

Johnson claimed another slice of ring immortality in 1966 when he allegedly knocked down George Chuvalo in a sparring session. “He started butting me and this made me mad,” said Amos. “So I dropped him. Then they threw me out of camp.” A letter in the October ’66 issue of Boxing Illustrated magazine from a reader who said he was at the training session at Huntington Golf Club in Toronto insisted that Chuvalo fell after tripping over the feet of his trainer, Teddy McWhorter, who was behind him in the ring, not from a Johnson punch. In his 2013 autobiography “Chuvalo: A Fighter’s Life,” ironman George — staunchly and famously vertical in all 93 of his professional matches — did not deign to mention the incident.

Johnson’s obituary by Stephanie Warsmith in the Akron Beacon Journal notes that when he was inducted into the Summit County (Ohio) Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002, Johnson didn’t even tell his children about it until after the fact. That kind of modesty is why, when he made Medina, Ohio, his headquarters in the ‘60s, a local policeman was quoted as saying, “This town’s full of boxing fans now — but only when it comes to Amos Johnson.”

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  1. Mac 03:45am, 06/19/2018

    I was stationed with Big John in the Marines.It was my honor to know him SEMPER FI Big John.

  2. oldschool 11:00am, 11/14/2015

    Nice tribute. I remember him fondly. I believe he also KO’d Allen Hudson in an inter-service bout prior to the Pan Am Trials.

  3. Bob 05:17am, 11/14/2015

    I had always known of him, but knew little about Amos Johnson. Sounds like he was a class act. Nice tribute.

  4. Sean Matheny 02:53pm, 11/13/2015

    Nice article Pete.  Amos lived in my hometown of Akron, OH and was a fixture in the local gyms.  He was a class act, and would always help kids learning to box.  His record should be better…he was a road warrior and lost a lot of “hometown decisions” (sometimes even in his own hometown!).I saw him fight future light heavyweight title challenger Ray Anderson in 1968 at the old Akron Armory, and I swear I fought Amos should have gotten the decision.  He dropped out of the boxing scene for the most part when he retired from the ring, but always held good jobs and took good care of his family.  I never head anyone say a bad word about Amos Johnson.

  5. peter 01:23pm, 11/13/2015

    Heavyweight Amos Johnson was a tough contender. Sorry to learn of his passing. He had more than a few good wins,. In addition to his victory over Cooper, he defeated some tough guys: Waban Thomas, Willi Besmanoff, Jefferson Davis, Cody Jones and Billy Joiner. Rest in peace.

  6. Mike Casey 04:54am, 11/13/2015

    I remember seeing the Cooper fight as a 10-year old, Pete. It was quite an upset.

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