Lee Groves

10: Notable Philadelphia title fights

2. July 26, 1977, Spectrum — Matthew Franklin KO 12 Marvin Johnson I — NABF light heavyweight title


Setting the Stage: The only fight without a major title on the line was simply too great to leave off this list. The hard-charging Johnson was breezing along at 15-0 (12 KOs) while the 15-3-2 (9 KOs) Franklin was on a two-fight winning streak after a stretch that saw him go 0-2-1 against future champs Marvin Camel, Mate Parlov and Eddie Gregory (who later became Eddie Mustafa Muhammad).

What Happened: Boxing’s equivalent of Armageddon. Johnson, as usual, rocketed from his corner and applied intense pressure while the backpedaling Franklin used angles to set up several excellent counters. Johnson peppered Franklin with his trademark left uppercuts and right hooks while Franklin responded with hurtful rights to the chin. Every thrown punch was meant to knock his rival’s head off his shoulders and the pace was more suited for lightweights than light heavies. Yet each man’s chin was equal to the task and the result was utterly breathtaking.

Because they were human beings it was only a matter of time before one man finally buckled. With Johnson seemingly ahead on points Franklin summoned the deep reservoir of will that would serve him well as champion years later. In the final seconds of round 11 — a round neither had seen as pros — Franklin uncorked a fusillade of heavy rights that had Johnson stumbling about the ring. Only a time-out due to a misheard bell kept Franklin from finishing Johnson then and there. But Franklin’s killer instinct kicked in at the start of the final round as he blasted Johnson with impunity. More than a dozen flush rights left Johnson in a heap along the ropes and as soon as Johnson’s body touched the floor the referee waved off the fight.

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