Lee Groves

10: Greatest light heavyweight title fights

4. April 22, 1979 — Market Square Arena, Indianapolis — Matthew Franklin KO 8 Marvin Johnson II


Setting the Scene: Franklin-Johnson I saw both men relentlessly hammer away for 11-plus rounds before “Miracle Matthew” finally prevailed in the 12th and final round. Since then Franklin had added six wins over the likes of Billy Douglas (father of Buster), Richie Kates, Dale Grant and Yaqui Lopez. Johnson had gone 7-1, losing to Lotte Mwale but beating Douglas, Eddie Davis and Jerry Celestine to earn a crack at WBC titlist Mate Parlov. After Johnson stopped Parlov in 10, he decided to grant Franklin the first crack, not only because Franklin was a credible opponent worthy of ABC’s coverage but also for the chance to avenge his first pro loss.

What Happened: Johnson instantly took the fight to the slow-starting Franklin to win round one and a bone-rattling left shook the challenger early in the second. Franklin came alive in the round’s final minute with a succession of rights that wobbled Johnson and from that point forward they fired their best artillery at each other. Johnson enjoyed a decisive fourth and got the better of the chest-to-chest action in round five, particularly with his bone-rattling left uppercuts. By the sixth Johnson’s right eye sported an abrasion while Franklin’s right eye was puffy.

Johnson bloodied Franklin’s nose in the seventh with his oft-maligned right jabs but in the final nine seconds of the session Franklin connected with a lead right to the jaw that stiffened Johnson’s body and had him teetering toward oblivion. Somehow, Johnson recovered by the start of round eight, destined to be THE RING’s Round of the Year for 1979.

Johnson’s slashing punches ripped open Franklin’s scar tissue and within seconds the challenger’s face was awash in blood. Just like Sugar Ray Robinson had in his rematch with Randy Turpin, Franklin channeled his urgency into a rally for the ages. A rapid-fire fusillade of power shots capped by a left uppercut left Johnson on his face in his own corner. Johnson struggled to his feet but his dazed expression told referee George DeFabis all he needed to know. With a wave of his arms the title had changed hands and it signaled the start of a most drama-filled reign.

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