Velazquez (11-5-2, 6 KOs), 42, a former New England title contender in the mid- to late-1990s, will end a 15-year layoff in his long-awaited return to the ring Feb. 21st, and he’ll do it against one of the most prolific light heavyweights of this generation. Johnson (53-18-2, 36 KOs), 45, has been actively fighting for the past 25 years, a late-bloomer who didn’t turn pro until he was 20, but during that stretch he’s fought 11 world-title bouts and enjoyed an impressive run as the IBF and The Ring title-holder, which included his shocking knockout win over Roy Jones Jr. in 2004. Three months later, Johnson unified the light heavyweight title by beating Antonio Tarver and earned the Boxing Writer’s Association of America’s Fighter of the Year award.
Nicknamed “The Road Warrior” for frequently fighting — and winning — in his opponents’ hometowns, Johnson’s resume also includes a knockout win over the hard-hitting Yusaf Mack of Philadelphia and an inclusion in the Super Six World Boxing Classic in which he dropped to 168 pounds to replace an injured Mikkel Kessler and knocked out Allan Green before losing a close majority decision to World Boxing Council (WBC) champ Carl Froch in the semifinals.
Like the loss to Froch, many of Johnson’s setbacks have either been too close to call or have fallen under a cloud of controversy, including a disputed draw against Clinton Woods for the then-vacant IBF title in 2003 in Woods’ backyard in the United Kingdom, which Johnson avenged later that year by beating Woods unanimously for the belt. He faced Woods a third time in 2006 in the same country for the same belt and lost a close split decision in which one judge awarded the fight to Johnson by two points.
Following the trilogy with Woods, Johnson went on to beat former world champion Montell Griffin by 11th-round knockout and faced off twice against WBC title-holder Chad Dawson, losing both fights by narrow unanimous decisions. Johnson also challenged for the IBF title a third time against Tavoris Cloud and took a shot at the IBF super middleweight belt against Lucian Bute, going the distance against both fighters. Johnson pushed Cloud to the brink for 12 rounds and lost a unanimous decision despite landing more punches than Cloud, according to the CompuBox numbers.
In addition to knocking out 36 of his 73 opponents, a staggering 49 percent knockout rate, Johnson has only been stopped once in 25 years, proving his chin is as solid as his fists. The lone stoppage occurred in 1997 in the first of his 11 world-title belts against then-IBF middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, the ageless wonder who, at 49, now holds the same light heavyweight title Johnson defended twice during the peak of his dominance in 2004. Born in Jamaica, Johnson moved to southern Florida at the age of 15.
Velazquez is best known for a series of memorable bouts on the New England circuit in the ’90s, including a thriller against former world-title challenger Scott Pemberton and a six-round battle against Richard Grant, who later went on to face former super middleweight world champ Jeff Lacy. Velazquez also went the distance with former IBF contender Gabriel Hernandez and fought two draws against Holyoke, Mass., cruiserweight Darren Whitley.
“Home Sweet Home” also features the homecoming of Providence native Toka Kahn (9-0, 6 KOs), a highly-decorated amateur and now undefeated super featherweight prospect fighting under the promotional guidance of Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing. Kahn will fight in his hometown for the first time since 2012 in a six-round bout.
“The Vermont Bully” Kevin Cobbs (7-1, 2 KOs), now fighting out of Fall River, Mass., will end his year-long layoff in a four-round light heavyweight bout while Pawtucket, R.I., middleweight Thomas Falowo (10-2, 7 KOs) will return for the first time since his loss to Chris Chatman in July of 2012 in a separate six-round bout. The undercard also features the return of undefeated Providence middleweight K.J. Harrison-Lombardi (4-0-1), who will star in a four-round bout, and the Twin River debut of Louisiana cruiserweight Alvin Varmall (1-0, 1 KO), also fighting in a separate four-round bout. All fights and fighters are subject to change.