Lee Groves

10: James Toney’s best performances

9. June 29, 1991 – W 12 Reggie Johnson, Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas

Only 40 days after winning the IBF middleweight belt as a 17-to-1 long shot, Toney was eager to prove his upset win was no fluke. Most champions in his position would have taken a few months off before demanding a big purse to meet the number-10 contender on HBO, Showtime or pay-per-view, but Toney wasn’t most champions. Instead Toney called out Reggie Johnson, who was that most rare of birds – a legitimate number-one rated challenger.

Johnson, a native of the same Fifth Ward in Houston that produced George Foreman, was a slick, dangerous southpaw with a 29-1-1 (19) record that included five straight knockouts. He showed just how hazardous he was by winning the first round, then dropping Toney for the first time in his career with a sweeping left cross early in round two. Toney managed to survive Johnson’s all-out attempt to score the KO, then proceeded to slowly work his way back into the fight.

Several hefty rights drove Johnson back in the final minute of the fourth and a precise counter right stung the challenger in the fifth. When Johnson delivered his own right later that round, Toney defiantly dropped his hands and dared the Texan to hit him again. By the sixth Toney had found his rhythm as well as the formula to slice into Johnson’s early lead: Steady pressure, busy jabs and timely crosses.

Johnson regained a measure of his early form in the 10th but appeared to tire in the 11th as he struggled to keep Toney at a safe distance. An accidental butt midway through the final round opened a deep slice over Toney’s left eye, which added drama to an already suspenseful fight. Though Toney was badly distracted by the blood he still managed to produce the stronger finish, which doubtlessly helped him with the judges.

Judge Mike Glienna saw Johnson a 114-113 winner but he was overruled by Ric Bays (114-113) and Patricia Morse Jarman (115-112). The decision allowed the youngest middleweight champion in decades to keep his belt – at least until the next proving ground showed itself.

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