By David P. Greisman
In what was billed as a heavyweight eliminator, Kevin Johnson eliminated himself.
The former heavyweight title challenger — who drew the ire of American audiences three years ago when he stunk out the ring against Vitali Klitschko in December 2009 — put forth a repeat performance with British audiences on Saturday, against Tyson Fury in the main event at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
That is to say, he put in a non-performance.
Johnson threw little. Fury, meanwhile, came out aggressively from the outset and then cruised down the stretch, picking up an entirely easy 12-round unanimous decision. The scorecards were 119-110 and 119-108 (twice).
"Slippery, slippery guy," Fury said of Johnson afterward. "I never went in to knock him out. You load up, he's going to make you miss. I boxed to a game plan. I wouldn't let heart get the better of me."
Fury is an undefeated, 6-foot-9 heavyweight, but he doesn't necessarily fight like a lumbering big man. Nor is he in the mold of a Wladimir Klitschko. Rather, Fury relied on activity and movement against Johnson, issuing jabs and two-punch combinations, going to Johnson's body, circling around the ring and boxing.
Johnson said afterward that he wanted Fury to be aggressive, and that instead he found it difficult to be facing someone else who was also boxing, particularly someone with Fury's size.
"He's very long," Johnson said. "He's longer than what you'd think."
Johnson certainly didn't help his own cause. He didn't use his vaunted jab much as the fight went on. He would go for prolonged stretches without throwing a single shot, even while standing in front of a Fury who had momentarily stopped moving. He showed no urgency, not even in the final round, when it was clear that he was behind on the scorecards and needed a knockout to win.
Fury and Johnson had been shown in a pre-fight video package with a friendly camaraderie, speaking to each other and even performing music together — Fury singing while Johnson sat at a piano. It would be easy to blame this camaraderie for Johnson's performance, if not for the fact that this has happened with him on big stages before.
And this was an important fight. It was an elimination bout for a future shot at the World Boxing Council's heavyweight title, a belt currently held by Vitali Klitschko.
Johnson had said beforehand that his fight with Fury would be a heavyweight version of the great wars between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. Once again, he talked a big game and did nothing to back it up.
The only point that Fury lost on the scorecards came as a referee deduction for hitting on the break in the seventh. It was in the second half of that fight that Fury eased up on his offense, opting to move more and throw less. With an opponent accentuating defense and in survival mode, it made little sense to try to get Johnson out of the ring while putting himself in danger.
Fury, 24, improves to 20-0 with 14 knockouts. Johnson, 33, falls to 28-3-1 with 13 knockouts.
Chris Eubank Jr. took a points victory on the televised undercard over measuring stick opponent Bradley Pryce, winning 80-73 on the sole scorecard of the referee.
Eubank, a middleweight/super middleweight prospect who is the son of the former middleweight and super middleweight titleholder, outboxed Pryce for most of the fight, often working behind his jab and circling around the ring. Pryce would come forward, not throwing enough but maintaining pressure. He was rarely able to land cleanly on Eubank when he did throw; Eubank was often easily able to dodge or slip punches or merely move away from the shots. While Eubank's defense was too good for Pryce's offense, Eubank's offense wasn't enough to keep Pryce from coming forward or to break him down. Eubank would land jabs, one-twos or the occasional flashy-looking three-punch combination. Pryce, meanwhile, presented enough of a threat to keep Eubank working.
"I'm a real deal," Eubank Jr. said afterward. "This isn't a joke. This isn't a gimmick."
Eubank, 23, moves to 8-0 with 3 knockouts. He is scheduled to fight again in just one week. Pryce, 31, falls to 33-12 with 18 knockouts.