Boxing: Johnston a cut above Schwer

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The Independent Online
THE REPUTATION Stevie Johnston brought to the ring here last night was bloodily borne out when he out-pointed and out-classed Billy Schwer of Luton over 12 rounds to retain the World Boxing Council lightweight championship.

The fragile facial tissue that has plagued Schwer throughout his career and caused him to suffer an eight-round stoppage in 1995 when challenging for the International Boxing Federation version of the 9st 9lb title was again a serious problem once the champion from Denver, Colorado, opened up a bad cut over the left eye in the third round.

Schwer's past experiences must have been haunting him as he felt the blood oozing down his cheekbone and it took smart work from Dennie Mancini at the end of the session to restore some of the challenger's lost confidence.

Schwer had begun brightly enough, using his superior reach and smart left jab to keep Johnston at bay and managed to do enough in the opening round to make the first positive mark on most people's score cards.

But it would be almost the last success he would have as Johnston proceeded to develop the style and cutting punch power that persuades many in boxing to believe that he is among the very best exponents of the sport's arts presently at work in the professional ring.

Johnston's ability to switch his attacks and spring forward with whiplash moves from the waist was always going to provide a serious examination of the challenger's resilience especially as his own method is a lot more orthodox.

Schwer came in behind his solid jab and occasionally got to Johnston with a following right. However, it was always abundantly clear that the American had a distinct edge in variety and if his punches did not carry a chilling power they acted on Schwer's features like an open razor so much so that Schwer received 18 stitches following the fight.

Soon the Luton man's face was a bloody mess. The cut over his left eye was soon followed by another beneath his right and a wound on the bridge of his nose that caused his corner men to work feverishly between rounds.

A sense of a genuine title contest between two fighters who have been round long enough to absorb the lessons of a punishing trade was contrast enough in prospect to the phoney belts that are put forward by some of the self-serving sanctioning bodies.

This and the support Schwer brought with him from Luton, thought to be around 4,000, gave the occasion a real atmosphere even if the challenger was not widely expected to upset the odds.

Johnston was clearly a class act and once he got into a rhythm there was only going to be one winner and it was not the man whose blonde hair was soon turned a shade of crimson as his blood mingled with the water the cornermen had poured over his head during the intervals. Nobody was entitled to question Schwer's courage and his willingness to try and carry the fight to the champion brought thunderous applause from his supporters whenever they felt that things might be going his way.

Close at ringside it was pretty obvious from early in the contest that Johnston was merely setting himself up for the withering assault that would rock Schwer back on his heels and set his head in sideways directions.

Johnston's combinations, particularly short hooks thrown inside followed by sharp uppercuts, were more than Schwer could possibly handle. It was bad enough coming up against a southpaw never mind one with such fast hands and the speed to manoeuvre himself into positions where his punches could do the most damage.

From the seventh round onwards there was a case for stopping the contest and maybe the referee, Larry O'Connell, would have moved in to stop proceedings had the challenger not continued to fight so bravely. With four rounds to go Schwer was so far behind and being so clearly outclassed that it would have taken a sensational punch to win him the contest.

Encouraged by the sight of blood coming from the champion's right eye - Johnston displays plenty of scar tissue in that area - Schwer came forward again in the latter stages of the contest only to be heavily punished by hard blows to his head. When Schwer came out strongly in the final round, throwing everything in to one last effort, a smile came to the champion's face. It had been a good night's work for him and it did not take the announcement that all three official judges had scored the fight 118-110 in his favour to establish the extent of his superiority.

n Patrick Mullings produced an impressive last round to clinch a contentious points win over Ghana's Eric Odumasi and take the vacant Commonwealth featherweight on the undercard of Schwer's fight. Mullings was handed a 114-113 verdict by referee Dave Parris although Odumasi appeared to have the edge. However, the visitor was deducted a point for a low blow in the eighth round and that, added to Mullings' last round, cost him dear.

PROFESSIONAL PROMOTION (Wembley Arena): 12-rd WBC lightweight title: S Johnston (US, holder) bt B Schwer (Luton), pts. 12-rd vacant Commonwealth featherweight title: P Mullings (Harrow) bt E Odumasi (Gha) pts. 8-rd heavyweight: K Long (Brixton) bt M Potter (Walthamstow), pts. 4-rd flyweight: L Giorgiou (Romford) bt D Spencer (Walsall), pts.