Marvin Johnson gets top boxing honors

Marvin Johnson says inmates recognize him from his TV commercials....
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Rich Nye/Eyewitness Sports

Marion County - If you grew up in Indianapolis, you know the name Marvin Johnson. He will be inducted in the Boxing Hall of Fame this weekend. Johnson was incredible in the ring and starred in TV commercials for many years.

For over 20 years, the former champ has delivered his famous punch line in cheesy commercials for a local car dealer: "Just 500 North Shadeland, Indianapolis!"

Sgt. Marvin Johnson has also worked for over 20 years at the Marion County Sheriff's Department. He oversees inmate visitation and other special services at the downtown jail.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, Marvin put Indianapolis on the boxing map with his dynamite southpaw punch.

"Not trying to sound boastful, but I would describe myself as one of the best in the ring during my time," he said.

Johnson won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics, then compiled a 43-6 professional record over 15 years with 35 knockouts. Saturday, he goes into the World Boxing Hall of Fame along with Lennox Lewis and Pernell Whitaker, an honor that almost floored the 54-year-old.

"It pretty much hit me with almost a knockout punch. Not a knockout, but it kind of staggered me pretty good. I'm just thankful that I was selected to be one that will be inducted and I guess I'm more thankful that I'm alive at the time it's taking place," Johnson said.

It was at Market Square Arena where Johnson thrilled hometown fans in 1986 by becoming the first boxer to win the worldwide heavyweight title for the third time.

Johnson scored a TKO in round seven over Leslie Stewart to claim the WBA light heavyweight title. Johnson fought five times at Market Square Arena. But just a couple blocks away, most jail inmates don't remember Marvin in the ring.

"They say hey, I know you. You're that guy who does those TV commercials. But they never know anything about my boxing career. I had one guy that even asked me, don't you wish you was a real boxer?" Johnson said, somewhat wistfully.

He is a real boxer, if not a real actor, and now his exploits in the ring will go down in history.