Johnson wins crown in a night of firsts

He's 1st African-American to win jr. bantamweight title in MCI Center's fight debut

April 25, 1999|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson's 12-round unanimous decision over IBF No. 2 contender Ratanachai Vorapin of Thailand last night made him the first African-American to win the International Boxing Federation junior bantamweight title -- the first boxing event ever at MCI Center.

Ranked No. 4 by International Boxing Digest, Johnson, of Washington, D.C., boxed beautifully.

He showed speed, a thumping jab and power in winning all but two rounds on one card (118-109), all but three on another (117-110) and all but four on a third (116-110). The victory ended an 18-bout winning streak for Vorapin (35-4, 25 KOs) that included 14 KOs.

Johnson, who was the first African-American to win a flyweight title in 1996, improved to 37-1, 26 by knockout, after moving up.

"I was proud to be the first African-American to win a title in those two divisions. And the first to win a title at MCI. I made history. Johnny Tapia, get ready. Stop running," said the southpaw, referring to WBA junior bantamweight champ Tapia. "This guy was a tough lefty that kept coming. I knew open scoring was going to hurt. Once you know you're winning, you might get sloppy."

Johnson referred to open scoring used last night, the first time in a major title fight. Under the system, scores were announced after the fourth and eighth rounds.

He eased up after four rounds, when it was announced to the crowd that two judges had scored it a shutout, 40-36, and the third scored it 40-35 -- an indication of a 10-8 round for Johnson in the fourth, when he wobbled Vorapin. After the eighth round, Johnson was given every round (an 80-72 margin) on two cards, and all but one (79-72) on the third.

Johnson seemed to take a breather in the fifth and ninth rounds, after the scores were announced, and probably lost both. He also drew boos from the crowd of 11,437.

"I felt I cheated the crowd. When I heard I was up 8-0, why should I fight the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th," Johnson said. "There was no reason for me to take a risk. I took every round off after the eighth."

In a middleweight title bout, Keith Holmes fired 21 unanswered punches en route to his seventh-round knockout, which dethroned World Boxing Council champ Hassine Cherifi of France.

Holmes (33-2, 22 KOs) started Cherifi's demise with a left uppercut to his throat area, and followed with a chopping left that sent Cherifi (26-3, 17 KOs) into the ropes.

Referee Frank Capuccino stepped in and halted the bout, a rematch of a May championship fight won by Cherifi.

In the final bout of the night, Sharmba Mitchell knocked down challenger Reggie Green in the first round of a 12-rounder to win a majority decision and retain his World Boxing Association super lightweight title.

Mitchell (45-2, 29 knockouts), who had knocked out 10 of his previous 13 opponents, felled Green in the first round.

"I didn't think he would go down in the first round. I was surprised," said Mitchell, who said he injured his right hand during the fight. "I knew he would come back."

According to the scoring, Mitchell had lost three straight rounds entering the 10th. But Mitchell used his boxing ability in the 10th and 11th to outscore Green (30-3, 14 KOs), who was down by three points on one card and four on another.

In a battle of welterweight women, Christy Martin (37-2-2), the World Boxing Council's Pound for Pound champion, scored her 29th knockout in 36 seconds over Jovett Jackson (13-2, six knockouts).

Also, 11th-ranked IBF contender Ross Thompson (25-3-1, 16 KOs) of Buffalo, N.Y., stopped Washington's D.C.'s Antonio "Starchild" Reese (17-3, 13 KOs) in the fifth round of their junior middleweight title-elimination bout, and Sammy Retta (13-0, 13 KOs) knocked out New York State champ Ed Bryant (10-6) at 2: 26 of the fourth round of their scheduled eight-round, super middleweight fight.

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