Klitschko’s KO Streak Ends with Win over Johnson


Two streaks ended in Bern, Switzerland on Saturday when Vitali Klitschko made the third defense of his second reign as WBC Heavyweight Champion against the undefeated Kevin Johnson.

Taking on the first top-level opponent of his career, Johnson lost his undefeated record, but the match also cost Klitschko his knockout streak in title fights. Aside from his only two losses, both technical knockouts, Vitali had won all of his eight previous title fights by stoppage. Johnson was the first man to go twelve rounds with Klitschko since Timo Hoffman in 2000.

So how did Johnson pull off what so many others had failed to do? Quite simply, he came to survive, not to fight.

A minute into the fight, neither man landed a solid blow. Klitschko struck first by pinning Johnson against the ropes and getting in a straight right hand to the body. Once there, Johnson opted to lay on the ropes and play defense as Vitali tried putting together some punches. Johnson rattled off several ineffective jabs to the body until Klitschko hit him with a right hand to the side of the head. Johnson shook his head at Vitali following the round as though he had gotten the start he wanted.

After taking a straight right early in round two, Johnson managed to counter with one of his own. Vitali quickly pressured him to the ropes, but Johnson pushed him away and nodded his head over the small triumph. Klitschko answered with a body shot and two straight rights to the head. Later in the round, Johnson complained about a rabbit punch, allowing Klitschko to hit him with a jab while his hands were down. He waved Vitali on for more, and Klitschko obliged with a left hook.

Klitschko landed a straight right to start the third round. Pinning Johnson on the ropes, he banged a left hook into Johnson’s glove and another right into the side of his head. Johnson then countered with a beautiful straight right to the nose that knocked Klitschko’s head back. He again nodded, admiring his handiwork, and lost another lopsided round by not throwing more punches and capitalizing.

Johnson took a left hook to start round four and responded by shaking his head in front of Klitschko. A minute and a half later, Klitschko landed the best punch of the fight – a clean straight right hand to the face that turned Johnson’s head. Johnson nodded and started talking to Vitali in the final seconds. He kissed his glove and raised it threateningly to Klitschko, who continued hitting him at will. When the round ended, Referee Kenny Bayless got between the fighters, and, in what was becoming increasingly bizarre behavior for a man clearly falling behind, Johnson pointed for Vitali to head to his stool.

Open scoring was in effect for the fight, and, not surprisingly, all three judges had Klitschko winning every round. Klitschko did obtain a small cut over his right eye, which may have been the cause for Johnson’s celebrations. The fighters got a long rest as Bayless held them apart for almost an extra thirty seconds before the bell to start the fifth. Klitschko snapped Johnson’s head back with a straight right as the only highlight of another dominant round for the champion.

A minute into round six, Johnson stepped in and smacked Vitali with a left hook to the cheek – one of the rare blows he landed to Klitschko’s swollen right side of the face. Klitschko landed a straight right to the head in return. Another straight right had Johnson briefly holding on. Vitali landed a jab, but Johnson cracked him with a hard counter right hand to the jaw that turned Klitchko’s head. Still, for all the defensive craft he was showing, Johnson wasn’t busy enough and allowed Vitali to outwork him in the final seconds for the round.

Despite losing the first six rounds, Johnson continued playing counter-puncher into the second half of the fight. That encouraged Vitali to start throwing more different punches, including left hooks to the head in round seven. And, in round eight, the right hands started falling more frequently for Vitali. He landed several clean shots on Johnson throughout the round.

With his eye in the worst condition since his epic fight with Lennox Lewis in 2003, Klitschko never lost his cool – mostly because Johnson never put any real pressure on him. In rounds nine and ten, Johnson neglected to even taunt Vitali as he had done throughout the fight. Klitschko cruised into the championship rounds well ahead, though open scoring revealed that one judge had somehow found a round to give him somewhere in the first eight.

Johnson caught two right hands to the head late in round eleven. Rather than punch back, he spread his arms and took another right to the chin from Vitali. When the round ended, Bayless got between the fighters, and Johnson gestured in Klitschko’s direction, taunting him once again and showing far more passion once the bell ended than the three minutes he was supposed to be fighting. Vitali stared him down until Bayless sent Johnson to his corner.

Trying to keep his impressive knockout record among the best in the sport, Klitschko tried to take Johnson out in round twelve, landing a right hand that put the challenger on the ropes. Johnson looked to Bayless to complain about something, at which point Klitschko raised his glove and frantically waved it in the air – his way of mocking Johnson. Vitali again raised his glove, pointing it straight up in the air to get Johnson to look at it. The crowd, which had booed Johnson for talking more than fighting, cheered Klitschko’s act.

Then, it was Johnson’s turn for a rebuttal. Trying to top Vitali, he leaned over and patted his chin with both gloves, daring Klitschko to hit it. The fans thundered with boos over the scene – a championship fight turned into a glorified game of chicken.

Deciding one of them had to actually fight, Vitali picked up the pace again and clocked Johnson with a right across the chin against the ropes. Johnson nodded and patted his chin, asking for another. Only with twenty seconds to go did Johnson finally start letting his fists do the talking and traded with Klitschko to end the fight.

But at the bell, it was Vitali’s turn to get in Johnson’s face – quite literally. He walked the challenger down and bumped chests with him. Klitschko then stared down in Johnson’s face, and Johnson proceeded to mouth off to him. Bayless pushed the fighters apart, and Vitali’s brother, IBF and WBO Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko, entered the ring and grabbed Johnson from behind. Johnson, perhaps thinking a trainer had hold of him, turned and shoved Wladimir off. After realizing who it was, Johnson turned and walked away, retreating from the championship spotlight to a chorus of boos.

Compubox tracked Johnson as only having landed a pitiful five power punches the entire fight. He wisely tried to make friends with Vitali before the scorecards were announced and received a playful pat on the chest from the champion, who didn’t need to do any more to prove his dominance over Johnson.

Vitali was a clear winner, taking home a unanimous decision by scores of 120-108 twice and 119-109, but the fact that Johnson had survived to the final bell left its mark on Klitschko by ending his 11-fight knockout streak and his knockout streak in title fights at eight. Of course, it’s difficult to score a knockout against an opponent strictly playing defense.

Klitschko was expected to make a mandatory defense against Oleg Maskaev in the spring, but Maskaev was knocked out in a single round by Nagy Aguilera a day before Klitschko fought Johnson.

Klitschko’s attention will no doubt next turn to WBA Heavyweight Champion David Haye. The Klitschko brothers have expressed a strong desire to hold all four heavyweight titles simultaneously. With Wladimir holding two and Vitali holding one, Haye is the final piece to that puzzle and considered by far the biggest challenger to either Klitschko brother.