There could be no excuses for Vincent Pettway last night after the one-time welterweight contender was stopped by unranked Stefan Johnson, of Brooklyn, N.Y., after 2 minutes, 14 seconds of the sixth round of their nationally televised fight before a crowd of 1,700 at Painters Mill Theater.
Pettway, 30-4, had a cut eye to explain his loss to Victor Davis, a sudden loss of weight for his knockout by George Leach, and a drugged rival in his "no-decision" fight with obscure Augustin Caballero.
But the 25-year-old Baltimorean was outgunned by Johnson, who must be labeled a comer after winning impressively in a rival's hometown. Conversely, this latest defeat may have ended Pettway's dreams of becoming a title challenger.
"I saw Pettway box Leach and Davis and felt he was vulnerable to the right hand," said Johnson, who fights in a classic upright style. "But I didn't want to rush things. You've got to respect a man who has fought twice as many fights as you.
"I wasn't pleased with my jab in the early rounds, but once he went to the ropes, he made a mistake. When I hit him with the second right, I knew he was going down. I just hoped he wouldn't get up."
Unlike most fighters after a dramatic victory, Johnson was not shouting for a match with one of the reigning 147-pound champions.
"I'm only 22," he said. "I have time. It's back to the drawing board for me like a man doing a regular 8-to-5 job."
His white-haired manager, Joe Scorcia, who managed former light- heavyweight champion Eddie Gregory, was less cautious.
"I tried to tell everyone this kid has real class," he said. "Maybe now they'll start taking notice."
Then Scorcia huddled with promoter Russell Peltz, already working on Johnson's next fight.
Upstairs, a dejected Pettway said: "Maybe this was in the cards. Maybe now all the guys who wouldn't fight me before will get brave."
The ending was sudden and unexpected after five rounds of scientific boxing in which Johnson (13-3-1) at least gained respect from his more experienced rival with his effective jab and fast hands.
This pattern continued in the first two minutes of round six when Pettway backed against the ropes, hoping to catch Johnson with a right hand counter. He never got the chance.
The Brooklyn boxer caught him with a short right uppercut that put Pettway's head in perfect position for a follow-up right cross. Pettway tilted to the left like a ship taking on water and crashed to the canvas.
Referee Milton Green did not even bother to count, signaling an end to the bout. Pettway started to protest after regaining his feet, but there was no argument from his veteran trainer and manager, Mack Lewis.
"You've got to take the bitter with the sweet," said Pettway, "but lately I've been taking a lot more bitters."
Although he criticized the referee for stopping the fight without a count, he conceded that he had done little offensively in the first five rounds to take charge of the fight.
"I wanted to show the people I was a thinking fighter," he said. "I was moving, slipping and catching punches, but I wasn't making him pay for his mistakes. He hadn't hurt me up 'til then, and I was just biding my time."
Johnson, who had a brief amateur career before turning pro, had other plans.
Baltimore junior welterweight Eddie Van Kirk, 28, making yet another comeback, warmed up slowly before systematically wearing down Mike English, of Columbia, S.C., on the way to an eighth-round knockout.
The fight was lengthened from eight to 10 rounds in order to fill time on the television broadcast after the Calvin Grove-Julian Solis match was canceled.
But Van Kirk, throwing a number of roundhouse rights, was anxious to end it quickly.
The fight should have been stopped in the seventh round when Van Kirk caught the lanky English with a hard right to the side of the jaw. English fell against the ropes and was hammered by several vicious body shots before sagging to the floor.
Bleeding from the left eye, English barely beat the count on rubbery legs. Referee Frank Kelly allowed him to start another round, but Van Kirk needed only 34 more seconds to finish the job with a left-right combination.