Heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko has successfully defended his WBC title at the PostFinance Arena in Bern against previously unbeaten Kevin Johnson.
swissinfo.ch was ringside on a bitterly cold night for Saturday’s “Barney in Bern” and to see the judges’ unanimous decision after 12 rounds go in the 38-year-old Ukrainian’s favour.
Klitschko kept his 30-year-old challenger from the United States against the ropes for much of the fight in the Swiss capital but landed few heavy shots to hurt.
“I would have preferred a knockout but I’m happy because I won all 12 rounds," Klitschko told the more than 17,000 partisan crowd. “He’s not easy to hit.”
Johnson proved a durable opponent and did his best work with counterattacking straight left jabs, though without managing to rock Klitschko, who has never taken a standing count in his career.
“When I first met Vitali I told him, ‘You won’t knock me out’,” Johnson said. “There are things we need to work on and we’re going to go home to the gym and polish them up.”
Klitschko, who has won 39 fights – 37 by knockout – and lost two, was making a third successful defence of the belt he reclaimed in October last year after a four-year break to recover from injuries.
He opted to take the fight just 11 weeks after beating Cris Arreola, another unbeaten American, who did not come out for the 11th round of their bout in Los Angeles.
Johnson, the WBC’s sixth-ranked contender, experienced his first professional defeat in his 24th fight, nine of which have been knockouts.
At 2.02 metres and 112 kilograms, Klitschko, who calls himself "Dr Ironfist", took a size advantage of 11 centimetres and 2kg into the ring and was the bookmakers’ big favourite. In fact, some commentators had gone so far as to describe the bout as a mismatch.
swissinfo.ch’s immediate neighbours in the media section on Saturday both thought pre-fight that Johnson would either be knocked out or throw in the towel some time after the ninth round.
Johnson’s problem, they said, was that he “couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag” and depended completely on his jab and a lot of movement to get his wins, which wouldn’t work against the agile Klitschko.
That said, it had only been three months since Klitschko – no spring chicken at 38 – previously fought and with that kind of short time between bouts he could have found himself at less than 100 per cent.
Other pundits thought Klitschko’s face, which has history of getting sliced up, might not be able to take the punishment.
As it turned out, Johnson opted for defensive tactics, inviting the champion to come at him in the second round.
Klitschko aimed mostly head shots but a succession of overhand rights found Johnson turning away in defence.
The Ukrainian’s right cheek was marked in the fourth round, and Johnson connected with a left hook in the sixth. But he failed to mount many combinations and Klitschko kept winning rounds with steady jabs, more big rights and an occasional straight left.
The fight heated up in the 11th when Klitschko responded to Johnson’s taunting hands-spread gesture with a flurry of blows.
In the final round, Johnson pointed at his chin to goad Klitschko into another attack, and the bout ended with the American finally trading punches in the centre of the ring.
The two squared up after the bell and Johnson was ushered back to his corner by Klitschko’s younger brother Wladimir, the IBF and WBO champion who works in Vitali’s corner.
Klitschko said the brothers, who apparently promised their mother they would never fight each other, wanted to own all four major titles in 2010 by taking the WBA belt held by Britain’s David Haye.
“We have a dream and we will do our best to make our dream come true,” Klitschko said. “It will be very interesting in the next year.”
Haye next has a mandatory defence against John Ruiz, likely to be in London in spring.
“I wish him good luck,” Klitschko said. “If David Haye will be ready to fight any time, I will be here.”
For his part, Haye earlier in the week challenged Vitali Klitschko to take tougher fights.
“There are probably one million dudes in America called Kevin Johnson, and beating one of them doesn’t make you an all-time great heavyweight,” Haye said. “They may be big in Switzerland, but so are yodellers, and no one wants to watch them fight.”
So Vitali Klitschko goes into 2010 as WBC heavyweight champion after an entertaining but hardly classic fight in Bern. Kevin Johnson, while losing his unbeaten record, can nevertheless claim to have gone 12 rounds with Klitschko, something only one other person - Timo Hoffmann - has done.
Thomas Stephens at the PostFinance Arena in Bern, swissinfo.ch
The brothers Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko and his younger brother Wladimir together hold three of the world's four major boxing titles.
Their father, Wladimir Rodionovich, was a general in the Soviet air force. Mother Nadezhda Ulyanovna was a teacher.
The brothers were both born in the former Soviet Union. They moved to Germany and in 2003 to Los Angeles.
Vitali began his career as a kickboxer. In 1996, he began his professional boxing career.
Vitali ran for mayor of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in 2006 but lost.
Vitali is the first boxing champion to hold a PhD. In 2000, he was granted his PhD in sports science by Kiev University. A year later, Wladimir earned his PhD, also in sports science.
Born: July 19, 1971 in Belovodsk, Kyrgyzstan
Alias: Dr Ironfist
Marital status: Married with 3 children
Height: 2.02 metres
Weight division: Heavyweight
Record: 41 fights, 39 wins (37 knockouts), 2 losses
Born: March 25, 1976 in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan
Alias: Dr Steelhammer
Marital status: Single
Height: 1.96 metres
Weight division: Heavyweight
Record: 56 fights, 53 wins (47 knockouts), 3 losses