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Mystery Champ

A bust a year ago, Glen Johnson is now looking like the fighter of the year
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Glen Johnson has lost more than his share of controversial decisions, so you'll forgive him for not caring if most ringside observers--including Roy Jones Jr., the former world champ whom he knocked out in September--thought Antonio Tarver was the rightful winner of their light heavyweight fight last Saturday night. After starting his career 32--0, Johnson, whose penchant for fighting on opponents' home turf earned him the nickname Road Warrior, had gone just 9-9-2 in his 20 bouts before Saturday. In at least half a dozen of those losses, though, he had a legitimate beef with the decision. Against the favored Tarver (22--3), who knocked Jones out last May, he was again locked in a tight battle. Tarver landed more punches (296 to 217), but Johnson was more aggressive late, taking the final three rounds on two judges' cards to eke out a split decision. "My heart was beating fast," said Johnson of his wait for the outcome. "I came out ahead, which doesn't happen too often. I'm just thankful." The win makes him a favorite for fighter of the year honors, and it set the stage for a lucrative rematch. "If you look at my history," said Johnson, "I never back down from challenges."

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MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS (TARVER AND JOHNSON)

CLOSE CALL

Johnson (left) landed fewer shots but outpointed Tarver.