Golden Johnson came into the match at the Show Palace in Oceanside, CA having been out of the ring for nearly three years. During the first three rounds of his 12-round IBA Continental Americas welterweight title fight against previously unbeaten Freddy “Riel” Hernandez, Johnson looked as if a bottle of Armor All wouldn’t be able to shake the rust loose.
Hernandez (17-1, 14 KOs) was consistently beating the veteran Johnson to the punch with his lengthy jab to keep Johnson (23-7-2, 16 KOs) from gaining the inside.
Heeding shouts from his newly appointed trainer, Jessie James Leija, Johnson gradually worked his way inside and landed a wicked left hook to drop Hernandez late in the fourth round. Hernandez was visibly stunned as he listened to referee Tony Crebs reach the count of eight before struggling to his feet. Somewhere between getting to his feet and listening to the referee, Hernandez spit out his mouthpiece and bought himself a few extra precious seconds to make it through the round.
Visibly stunned, Hernandez weathered the storm during the 5th and 6th rounds to mount an impressive comeback of his own as the bout moved into the later stages.
Hernandez frustrated Johnson with his height and reach advantage as he peppered Johnson’s face with an excellent jab all night long. When the action moved inside, Johnson controlled the pace and landed critical punches to the side of the younger Hernandez. Both men scored telling shots, but Hernandez outworked Johnson in rounds 7-9 to take a slight lead in the bout.
Listening without questioning, Johnson took Leija’s advice and began pushing his taller opponent straight back. As Johnson did, he was able to land crisp right hand leads that eventually turned the tide of the bout in his favor.
When the final tally was read it was Johnson who won a hard-fought narrow decision. Judge Chuck Hassett saw the contest in favor of Hernandez at 114-113, while judges Max DeLuca and Raul Caiz Jr. both favored Johnson with scores of 114-113 and 116-111 respectively.
“He (Johnson) had trouble with the height tonight,” said Johnson’s trainer Leija. “But he did show what he was made of when he fought on the inside.”
In other action, an eight-round bantamweight contest between Mexican Olympian Cesar Morales (16-1, 11 KOs) of Tijuana and ring-savvy veteran Paulino Villalobos (24-27-2, 15 KOs) of Veracruz, Mexico had the crowd shouting for more at the end of their wild affair. Both men were hurt during the battle with one point being deducted from Morales for a vicious low blow that even had many in the first three rows wincing.
Neither man took a backward step during the show as this one could have been fought in a closet. Villalobos fought hard and did manage to take the lead against his younger opponent, but bravado doesn’t score points. During the final three rounds Morales would make up the deficit of the point deduction and come away with an unpopular split decision. One judge saw the fight as 77-74 Villalobos, while the other two gave the nod to Morales at 77-74 and 76-75.
It was a great night of fights with in an excellent venue for boxing. The intimate setting allowed the crowd of 400 or so boisterous patrons to really feel what it was like to be in the ring. The lighting for the fight was a wet dream for any boxing photographer. Announcer Lupe Contreras did his usual stellar job to rouse the crowd with his trade mark phrase of “Quien es mas Macho?” Others in attendance for the Golden Boy Promotion were Daniel Ponce De Leon and San Diego fighter Benji Garcia.