By Sean Crose
Wow. Just wow. HBO and Showtime, for all their cold war nonsense, haven’t been able to deliver a fight like NBC Sports Network’s Curtis Stevens – Tureano Johnson war in a long, long time. For those who were fortunate enough to see the battle live on Friday night, Stevens and Johnson engaged in an early contender for fight of the year.
For starters, it’s time for fight fans to get familiar with Johnson. The man came into the ring with a perfect record and a nearly perfect fight plan. For he made the ferocious Stevens look to be on the losing end of things for the vast majority of the bout; continuously smothering and pounding away at his more acclaimed foe.
Stevens, however, was there to capitalize on his one round comeback destruction of Patrick Majewski last January. In other words, the guy called Showtime was determined to continue wiping away the memory of the beating he took at the hands of Gannady Golovkin back in November of 2013.
Stevens fired uppercuts and sharp flurries intermittently throughout the night in the hope of getting the big, hard hitting Johnson out of his personal space. Johnson, however, kept pinning Stevens against the ropes before pounding away. Whenever Stevens managed to connect, one got the feeling things were about to change. Yet things didn’t change. Johnson, whose conditioning was nothing short of extraordinary, came back from every hard shot Stevens struck him with.
The whole thing looked exactly like what it was – the dawn of a name contender. Make no mistake about it, Tureano Johnson proved he was the real thing on Friday night. Unfortunately for Johnson, however, he didn’t get to win the fight. Stevens pulled off the victory with just seconds to go in the tenth and final round. The whole thing was eerily reminiscent of the Julio Caesar Chavez – Meldric Taylor bout of the early 90s.
Stevens, in brief, had rocked his tormentor. Hard. Numerous times. Johnson looked about to go out. Perhaps he may have gone out had the fight been allowed to continue. Referee Gary Rosato, however, decided to step in and end it, much to Jonhson’s – and many fan’s – dismay. It was a controversial ending to a truly great fight; a bout which can be viewed as a legitimate younger brother of last year’s Froch-Groves classic.
There’s little doubt Rosato is going to take a lot of heat for his split second decision to stop the battle. It’s wrong to fault him, however, just like it was wrong to fault Richard Steele back when he he awarded a seemingly undeserved victory to Chavez. For Johnson, like Taylor before him, looked hurt. And a ref’s first job is to protect the fighters, not to please the fans. Sure, the whole ending was ultimately frustrating, but how many more clean, brutal punches was Johnson supposed to take?
Besides, Tureano Johnson is a man on the rise…and Friday’s bout didn’t slow down his path towards the top fighters in the middleweight division. In fact, the contrary might be true. For Johnson not only alerted the boxing world of his presence, he won the sympathy of fans. Expect to see more of him. It’s safe to say the division’s current champions will be keeping an eye on the man in the future.
As for Stevens, well, it’s hard to see why he’d ever want to fight someone like Golovkin again. It’s also not easy to imagine guys like Martinez, Quillin and Cotto rushing to face him, either. Perhaps, then, it would be wise for Stevens to try to fight Johnson in a rematch.