Born: December 24, 1969
Died: September 22, 2005
Town: Atlantic City
Leavander Johnson was born December 24, 1969 in Atlantic City to Bill and Vivian Johnson. His father was a boxing trainer who tutored his son in the finer points of pugilism. Bill also taught Leavander how to fish, and from the age of 3 the two enjoyed working the inlet north of the city. Leavander had more than 100 fights as an amateur and lost only six times. Quiet, confident and dedicated to his craft, he turned pro in 1989 and the age of 19. His brother, Craig, served as his manager.
Leavander stood 5'9" and weighed just over 130 pounds. He proved his prowess as an amateur was no fluke, winning 23 of his first 23 professional Lightweight bouts, with one draw. That earned him a WBC title shot in the summer of 1994 against Miguel Angel Gonzalez. Leavander tasted defeat for the first time as a pro when the fight was stopped in the eighth round. He got another title shot three years later, this time for the WBA Lightweight championship, against Orzubek Nazarov of Kyrgistan, but lost in the seventh round.
Leavander was still an effective fighter in his early 30s, but dreams of a championship were fading. He fought for the vacant IBF title in 2003 but lost to Javier Jauregui. However, at age 35, in June of 2005, the IBF LIghtweight crown was up for grabs again after being vacated by Julio Diaz. Leavander faced Italy’s Stefano Zoff forthe in Milan. In the seventh round, Leavander landed a devastating combination of rights and left that sent Zoff to the canvas. He was unable to continue and Leavander was declared the winner. The fight had been close to that point, with Leavander holding a slim lead.
In September, Leavander made his first title defense in Las Vegas against Jesus Chavez. Leavander suffered a cut over his right eye in the second round, and was unable to muster an adequate defense after Round 6. He managed to stay on his feet, absorbing terrific punishment, until the referee stopped the fight in the 11th round. After the fight, Leavander collapsed in his dressing room and was rushed to the hospital. Surgeons operated to relieve swelling on the brain and then induced a coma. He made it through the night and seemed to be improving, but a blood clot a few days later did irreparable damage and he was removed from life support. His final record was 34–5–2, with all but eight of his wins coming by knockout.
In June 2010, a statue was erected in Leavander’s honor in Atlantic City’s Center City Park.