WESTMINSTER — As the bell rang to end the World Martial Mania Federation cruiserweight championship Saturday night at Westminster High School, Manchester's Mike "Cobrafast" Johnson confidently bounced around the ring with his arms held high.
Surprisingly, though (both predicted knockout wins), his first title defense against former-champion Andre "The Giant" Blignaut of South Africa had gone the full nine rounds.
When the ring announcer announced a unanimous decision in favor of the South African challenger, a hushed crowd of around 800 heard Johnson immediately shout for a rematch.
A battered Blignaut hoistedthe championship belt high over his head and strutted proudly aroundthe ring.
"I know in my heart I won," said Johnson, who appeared ready to go another three rounds. "The people know who won the fight."
In truth, though, three key elements swayed the decision in Blignaut's favor.
* In round one, Johnson connected on a kick to the face, which resulted in Blignaut's nose bleeding profusely.
Johnsonended with a flurry, and a confused Blignaut survived the round breathing heavily.
"I wanted to come out quick, and my strategy was good. I knew he was hurt," Johnson said. "I saw the blood the whole fight and just wanted to keep at it, but he managed to continue.
Johnson, however, did not take advantage of the early injury and it was not a factor in the later rounds.
* The tale of the tape proved a major factor.
Blignaut came into the ring weighing 200 pounds, while Johnson weighed in at 175. The difference played a major role in the outcome.
"The weight made all the difference, especially on throws. I could throw Mike, but he couldn't throw me," said Blignaut, as he lay on a locker room bench with an ice pack under his neck.
"I don't think he liked to be thrown very much. I think he was hurt after every throw, and my weight landing on him hurt him."
WMMF rules require at least two takedowns, or throws, per round.
A week before the fight, Johnson said he was not overly concerned by the weight differential and believed his increase in speed could counter the difference.
And, it did at times. But Blignaut's throws proved the difference.
"Not understanding (WMMF) rules, I would have given the fight to Mike," said Lamar Clark of Baltimore, a light-contact point fighter from the Champion Karate Association. "But when the judges explained the body slams' importance . . . it was the right decision," he said.
* With the fans chanting "Mike, Mike, Mike" to open the eighth round, Johnson came out strong with a vicious kick to the ribs. Blignaut recovered and knocked Johnson down with a roundkick to the face and, seconds later, again with a punch.
"He (Blignaut) hit me with his most powerful kicks, and I took it and got right back up," Johnson said.
Clark was astonished Johnson got up after the first knockdown.
"Mike showed great stamina, he showed he trained for thefight. That roundkick (that caused the first knockdown) would have left most fighters on the canvas," he said.
Referee Johann Haywood of South Africa had no plans to stop the fight, even after giving Johnson his second standing eight count of the round.
"Mike had his gloves up and said he was fine. When I checked his eyes they were OK,"Haywood said.
Johnson came back strong in the final round and ended the fight with a combination of punches.
When asked if Johnson's strong comeback in round nine surprised him, Blignaut replied, "I make it a policy never to be surprised."
Without question, Johnson was the more polished fighter in the ring, often puzzling Blignaut with his exceptional speed, precise kicks and improved boxing skills.
"I hit him with a lot of solid punches," Johnson said. "My spinningbackfist was landing, and I had the speed advantage.
"He took some good shots; a couple of times I should have followed up. I have nothing to be ashamed about, I gave it all I had."
Blignaut, though, adjusted well after last year's loss and did a better job of staying with his game plan. He noted the difference between the two fights.
"I didn't get KO'd for a start," he said.
"I had a totally different plan this time. I abandoned the spectacular kicks, which were a waste of time for me, and punched to the face, took out his legs withkicks and squashed the body with throws."
Both fighters agreed a rematch appears to be in order. But the when, where and how remains up in the air.
"I've got a lot of things going on right now," said Johnson, who also promoted Saturday's card.
"We have to negotiate,and if the money's right . . . I won't fight him in his country -- maybe Japan or Germany."
The amateur undercard featured a number of Carroll fighters going up against some of Johnson's students from his Tae Kwon Do school in York, Pa.
Drew Weaver of Brushtown was awarded a 2-1 decision over Westminster's Charles Alder; Harry Kocoronis of York, Pa., stopped John Beale of Westminster with a technical knockout 1:26 into the second round.
The third and fourth matches were special youth bouts, with Soky Margetas, 10, of York, and Westminster's Adam Tull, 10, fighting to a draw after the scheduled threerounds, and George Margetas recording a third-round technical knockout win over Westminster's Chris Garner.
The final undercard bout saw Westminster's Dan Whittington winning a technical knockout over York's Mike Winter.