It’s a shame that fights are remembered for their ugliness rather than their greatness. Relatively unknown Tureano Johnson fought a perfect fight against top 10 middleweight Curtis Stevens in the co-main event of Main Events promotions card in Philadelphia Friday night. “I am really hurt,” Johnson said after as he was comforted by his trainer backstage crying. “I know I shouldn’t say this, but it will be hard to come back from this since I was robbed.”
So, what is the robbery that Johnson was alluding to? Johnson pushed a pace that had not been witnessed ever against Curtis Stevens. Stevens, known for his power, rarely sees anyone eat his power and plod forward, yet Johnson did it. Johnson enlisted a strategy of getting Stevens on the ropes and pounding his body with a heavy punch output forcing Stevens to have to breathe and react, often on the ropes, as opposed to lulls to recover. When looking at CompuBox numbers for the fight, Johnson threw 598 punches, as opposed to 470 punches by Stevens, but only he connected with 21 more punches then Stevens.
At first, it appeared that Stevens was baiting Johnson to walk into a big shot, but then it started to become clear that Johnson might just be able to take Stevens’ best shot and then some. Over the course of the first three rounds, it seemed as though Johnson had accumulated, at the very least, two rounds and more than likely he won all three. Then came round four, in what is only rivaled by Thomas Williams Jr. vs. Cornelius White Round One for round of the year.
Johnson moved Stevens back to the ropes as Stevens seemed content to block most punches and then he tried to fire off explosive hooks in quick bursts expecting a knockout. It was a right uppercut that rocked Johnson, pushing him back into the ropes. Stevens then swarmed looking for the kill. Then a left hooked landed on Johnson, but one thing was odd about the scene. Johnson took the shots and continued to come forward, smothering Stevens and even though he was affected by the power of Stevens he kept coming towards him and forcing the action. The round ended with a violent combinations of strikes that saw Johnson somehow getting the better and coming forward after the all out blitz from Stevens.
Johnson would later say, “I am a proud man from a small island who has a lot of heart,” in the press conference and the fifth round was the definition of heart. Johnson, a man who got hit by one of the hardest punchers in the middleweight division seemed on the brink of defeat in the prior round, not just rallied back in the fifth, but imposed his will on Stevens early, placing him back on the ropes and investing in body punching that seemed be slowing down the normally energetic Stevens. Stevens slowly began to look like he had concrete added to the soles of his shoes in between the rounds, as he sat more on the ropes, befuddled by the man across from him who wouldn’t stop coming.
Stevens was able to recoup, though and by the end of the round those in attendance felt the mood of something special. Stevens was fighting fire with fire as Johnson’s corner yelled to him telling him that Stevens had hurt his hand, a fact that appeared to be false as Stevens would hurt Johnson forcing him into retreat into the corner once again. The fight was a kind of social contract social neither fighter was going to stray from. Stevens, who had no power punches landing in the fifth round, landed sixteen in the last two rounds, most of which coming off the ropes as he landed violent combos that would have made a lesser man grimace, if not stop fighting.
By the seventh round it appeared that Johnson was just too busy for Stevens. Stevens, who had been discussed as the a viable option for WBO middleweight champ Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin with rumors even saying Quillin’s handlers, Golden Boy Promotions, may have turned down an offered fight. Stevens normally a freight train of power who only has shown vulnerability over the past four years to Gennady Golovkin and prior to that to a very tough Jesse Brinkley, and a young Andre Dirrell gave him a loss as well. The point is Stevens tends to dominate the guys he should dominate, and in the past has only had fits with the top guys or guys who have been close to the top. Johnson was largely unproven, and frankly, not supposed to be this good.
On ThaBoxingVoice podcast listeners commented in the chat about how funny it was that Johnson said he would go toe to toe with Stevens and bring the fight to him. No one laughed as only two rounds remained on Friday night. Johnson looked to be on the verge of pulling one of the biggest upsets in a good while. After a rough seventh, Johnson had shown signs that the fight was getting to him as he walked to the wrong corner in between rounds. The patten still would stand. Stevens would go to the ropes, get clobbered to the body, land one hard shot to every three thrown by Johnson.
Then it happened. In the tenth round, a thudding left hook from Stevens rocked Johnson’s head back, a lesser man would have fallen to the canvas, and gone to the ground, Johnson instead stood with his neck nearly turned around his spine. Johnson had the fight won. He choose to finish the fight aggressive. The media applauded the fact that Johnson was “going for it” and well, that’s when you have to wonder was it wise. A dazed Johnson moved backwards covering up as he hit the ropes. A few seconds later, the ref jumped between the two, and Stevens was pronounced the winner with less than minute left to go in the final round of the fight.
The immediate feeling was robbery. Johnson was in tears in the locker room as he felt that the fight was stolen from him. The moment happened so quickly, and opinions formed so fast, yes, it felt a little abrupt, but I made eye contact with Johnson, and saw his eyes roll back. Let’s not act like Johnson was not hurt. We love seeing battles turn into epic wars, but when someone gets a life threatening injury it is no longer funny. Johnson had shown symptoms of punishment as he had gone to the wrong corner and absorbed a lot of punishment.
The bigger question is, is there a moral obligation to a fighter who is a winning a fight when he gets caught in the last round? Do you give someone whose life could have been changed with this win, just three more seconds to go? Then the ugly underlying theme. Stevens is promoted by Main Events. Johnson isn’t. When things like this happen people tend to show outrage since it flat out looks funny. The unpopular opinion is that Johnson was slumped on the ropes and on the verge of going to the canvas. The moral thing would be to allow Johnson a few more seconds or at least hit the floor and have to get up.
In the end, we are left confused. Curtis Stevens was nearly beaten by a fighter who nearly no one could place prior to the fight. Johnson showed he is a top 10 middleweight on his best night. Johnson now has to recover from what would have been a career defining upset win that could of propelled the 14-0 fighter, who had been inactive for the past year and a half. “I’m hurt,” Johnson said when looking at the scorecards, Stevens was at a loss for words preferring the sounds of Jay-Z from his phone over any topics on this night.
In the end, it was the boos from the crowd that howled angrily at Stevens, rather than the cheers to both men in fourth round that people tended to remember. It was a hell of a fight in which both men showed their greatness; yet, it is the ugliness of the sport that people want to linger over. Johnson deserved more time, but Stevens does not deserve to be discredited. Stevens was hurt, went to war, and somehow showed true grit to win in the ninth inning.