ATLANTIC CITY - Ten years ago, Atlantic City native John Brown was one of the best boxers in the world.
The "Eastern Beast" used an exciting, aggressive style to entertain fans and challenge even the most talented opponents. He fought five times for a world championship, swapping punches with the likes of the Stevie Forbes, Angel Manfredy, Shane Mosley and the late Diego Corrales.
But that was a lot of years, a lot of losses and three weight classes ago.
Now 42, Brown (24-18-2, 11 KOs) has been in a slump for the better part of a decade. He will try to earn just his second victory since 2001 tonight in a six-round welterweight fight against Ricardo Williams (16-2, 9 KOs) on the Rico Ramos-Alejandro Valdez undercard at Bally's Atlantic City.
"It's tough in a way because I'm used to being in big fights that mean something," Brown said Thursday at Bally's. "It's hard to get up for fights like this. But I still do my job, I do what I do and I do my best to try to win without getting hurt."
Since earning a fourth-round TKO over Carlos Rocha on April 28, 2001, Brown is 1-10-2 in his last 13 bouts. His only victory in that span came on Oct. 24, 2009, when he gained an eight-round, unanimous decision over Daniel Gonzalez in New Town, N.D. Gonzalez was 9-24-2 at the time and is now 9-28-2.
But despite the losses, Brown has almost always been competitive. He went the distance in 11 of those 13 setbacks. In his most recent fight 10 months ago, he went the full six rounds in a defeat against then-unbeaten Lanard Lane in Memphis, Tenn.
Brown's toughness and experience helped convince New Jersey Athletic Control Board commissioner Aaron Davis to allow him to fight Williams tonight.
"We don't just look at a fighter's record when it comes time to sanction a fight," Davis said Thursday at Bally's. "We look at all the angles, such as who the guy has fought and how he handled himself in those fights. We can't just look at won/loss records. There are a bunch of guys in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who are .500, but are bona fide fighters.
"John has had a lot of losses, but he's been in there with tough opponents and handled himself well. But safety is of paramount importance to us. John had better look good in this fight. If he doesn't, he probably won't be back."
Brown's priorities are different.
He'd love to pull off the upset against Williams, who was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. But he's more concerned with avoiding danger.
The 2005 ring death of his good friend, former IBF lightweight champion Leavander Johnson, shook him to his core. Brown - Johnson's former stablemate at the Atlantic City Police Athletic League - was sitting ringside in Las Vegas during Johnson's 11th-round TKO loss to Jesus Chavez on Sept. 17, 2005. Johnson died five days later from head injuries sustained during that fight.
Once known for his go-for-broke, brawling approach, Brown is now a defensive-oriented boxer who seldom initiates the action.
"My goals are different now," Brown said. "I've seen a lot of guys get hurt in the ring from taking shots they didn't need to take. I'm not going to stand there and take a beating. If I ever feel myself getting to that point, I'll be finished with boxing, believe me.
"Right now, I still feel like I can compete. I still feel good and I still enjoy it in my heart. When I don't feel that way anymore, I'll stop."
PUNCHLINES: In tonight's main event, Ramos (18-0, 10 KOs), the WBA's top-rated super-bantamweight, will face his toughest challenge in Valdez (23-4-3, 17 KOs), who twice fought for world titles. That 10-round bout, along with an eight-round middleweight fight between Cornelius White (16-0, 15 KOs) and Don George (20-1-1, 17 KOs) will be aired on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation," starting at 11 p.m.
The five-fight card starts at 9 p.m. with another local fighter, Millville middleweight Thomas Lamanna, making his pro debut tonight. Lamanna, an 18-year-old senior at Millville High School, will face Anthony Williams (0-2), of Wilson, N.C., in a four-round bout.
The show also includes a 12-round IBF heavyweight elimination bout between Philadelphia native Eddie Chambers (35-2, 18 KOs) and Derric Rossy (25-2, 14 KOs). Chambers TKO'd Rossy in a 2007 bout.
Doors to Bally's Ballroom open at 8:30 p.m. with the first undercard bout slated for 9 p.m. Tickets are priced at $50 and $75 and are available at Bally's and through Ticketmaster.
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