Reporting on Norman Johnson’s 11th knockout victory in his 12th professional fight at the South Side Armory on October 9, 1955, The Milwaukee Journal’s Bob Teague wrote that before James Sparkman "assumed the prone position for 10 counts in the second round,
he had been floored twice. And judging from his expression after the second trip down he had decided that he did not belong in the same ring as Johnson."
That was a decision often made by opponents of Johnson, the sensational Milwaukee lightweight who passed away last Friday about three weeks short of his 78th birthday. Some made it a whole lot sooner than Sparkman did.
"Guys came down from up north, and when they found out they were matched against Norman they’d say, ‘I’m not fighting him!’" recalled LeRoy Allen, Johnson’s friend and stablemate at the Urban League gym on 9th and Vine Streets. "He was very aggressive and could hit hard."
In 1953 and ’54, Johnson won the Wisconsin Golden Gloves 135-pound title with first round knockouts. He was named "Outstanding Boxer" of the ’54 tournament, and both years he was runner-up in the National Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Boston.
After scoring first round knockouts in his first two pro fights in 1954, Johnson fought a draw with 35-bout veteran Al Cervantes at the Milwaukee Arena in a fight refereed by then- heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano. Then Johnson ran off 11 more knockouts before losing his first fight on points in St. Louis.
Johnson’s ferocious style made him a favorite at the Arena, Auditorium and South Side Armory. He quit boxing in 1959 with a record of 18-6-1. Fourteen of Johnson’s victims weren’t around for the final bell. Among the lucky few was Eddie Perkins, who lost a six-round decision to him at the Arena on Dec. 27, 1956.
Johnson knocked Perkins down twice in the third round. Not many did that to Perkins, a defensive wizard who reigned as world junior welterweight champion in the 1960s and is now enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.