Andrzej Fonfara fended off a determined effort from former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson to score a unanimous decision in their ESPN2-televised main event Friday evening in Chicago.
Scores were 97-93 (twice) and a what-the-eff-were-you-watching 99-91 in favor of Fonfara.
The questions heading into the evening were how much Johnson has left and whether Fonfara has anything at all. The Chicago-based prospect came in riding a nine-fight knockout streak, but was taking a massive leap in competition.
Johnson did his best to once again play the role of spoiler, scoring with the more telling blows in the early round. Fonfara was effective with his combinations, but not landing many shots with conviction in the first couple of rounds.
Things changed in the third, when Fonfara put his height and reach advantage to proper use. Johnson struggled to work his way inside, as Fonfara repeatedly scored with his right hand. Still, it wasnt enough for his corner, as trainer Sam Colonna demanded better head movement and use of his jab.
As the fight progressed, Fonfara grew more and more confident. Johnson was still competitive, but appeared to be getting outworked just a little more with each passing round. The former champ was still scoring with his looping right hand, but the moments were a bit too infrequent to suggest he was in control of the fight.
Fonfara began popping his jab with regularity in the middle rounds, but overshooting with the right. Johnson managed to always position himself to effectively counter, touching the body and scoring with right hands. Fonfara drew cheers from the crowd late in the sixth with a digging body shot, but was unable to follow up with a money punch as Johnson quickly recovered.
The failure to put any hurt on his opponent cost Fonfara in round seven. Johnson let it all hang out, overcoming a busy workrate from Fonfara early on to dig away in the second half of the frame. The rally appeared to sap Johnson, though, as his workrate dramatically decreased in the eighth.
Johnson sipped from the fountain of youth in the ninth, if only to offer one last memorable stand. The momentum shift prompted the raucous crowd on hand to rally behind Fonfara, with chants of Andrzej! filling the venue throughout the 10th and final round.
Fonfara jumped to an early lead in the frame and appeared to have Johnson winded and in trouble. However, Johnson proved to be at his most dangerous whenever trapped in a corner or pressed along the ropes, as Fonfara struggled whenever moving on the inside. Both fighters swung for the fences down the stretch, but unable to prevent the other from hearing the final bell.
The crowd erupted in cheers as the scores were announced, as Fonfara picks up by far the biggest win of his career. The light heavyweight extends his unbeaten streak to 13 straight as he improves to 22-2-1 (12KO). The nine-fight knockout streak comes to an end, though he will gladly take a win in a hard-fought fight like this any way he can get it.
More than seven years after a Fighter of the Year campaign that also included a stay atop the light heavyweight division, Johnson has now dropped three straight as he falls to 51-17-2 (35KO). Now in his 20th year as a pro, Johnson kept his career afloat with a shocking 8th round knockout of Allan Green as a late substitute in the Super Six tournament.
However, that memorable night in Nov. 10 was the last time he saw the win column. Decision losses to Carl Froch and Lucian Bute were forgivable as they came against the upper echelon of the super middleweight division.
The warrior spirit exuded against Fonfara suggests he still has enough left to test the next generation of fighters. The question is whether the cagey veteran is willing to accept such a role at this stage of his career, or just move on.
Johnson announced his retirement to ESPN2's Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas shortly after the broadcast cut away from location.
CASTILLO BLOODIES, DROPS AND STOPS POPOCA
In the televised co-feature, Jose Luis Castillo resurrected his career if only for a night with an upset 8th round stoppage of Ivan Popoca.
The fight was a war throughout, but controlled for the most part by Castillo. The early rounds were disastrous for Popoca, who was rocked in the first round and dropped early in the second. A headbutt left the Chicago-based prospect cut over his left eye, while his right eye was swelling shut.
Round three is a contender for Round of the Year, as both fighters went to war on the inside. The infighting led to a headbutt that caused the aformentioned cut, but Popoca braved the wound and soldiered on.
Castillo hurt his hand midway through the bout, but Popoca - now cut over both eyes and right eye nearly closed - was unable to capitalize other than continuing to throw more punches. However, it was Castillo landing at a higher rate and scoring the far more telling blows.
His face a mask of blood, Popoca was on the verge of being stopped in the sixth. However, the ringside physician became a hero when informing referee Peter Podgorski to allow the action to continue. "He's a bloody mess but he's OK to fight."
Fight on he did, until the referee chose to make himself part of the story. Popoca was warned in the eighth round by Podgorski for "something special to happen here" or not be allowed to continue. The third man stayed true to his word, stopping the fight in between rounds, much to the chagrin of a bloodied and disgrunted Popoca.
After being left for dead following multiple debacles at the scales, the 38-year old Castillo picks up his second straight win as he improves to 64-11-1 (55KO). The win is his first in the United States since a disputed split decision nod over Herman Ngodjou more than five years ago.
Castillo a two-time lightweight king is best remembered for his role in the unforgettable first fight with Diego Corrales. Easily among the greatest fights in boxing history, Corrales rose from two 10th round knockdowns to stop Castillo in the very same round.
Sadly, the Mexican warrior is equally remembered for his follies at the scales, showing up overweight for the rematch with Corrales and heavy enough to have the third fight canceled altogether. Also lost at the scales was a March 08 fight with Tim Bradley, among other occasions.
Popoca, who came in the fight following his first loss and a 15-month layoff, has now dropped two straight as he falls to 15-2-1 (10KO). The transplanted Mexican suffered an 8th round stoppage at the hands of Ruslan Provodnikov in his previous ring appearance.
This fight took place well above his career norm, having campaigned primarily at 135 and 140.