LOS ANGELES Glen Johnson, a virtual unknown until knocking out Roy Jones Jr., three months ago, won a split decision over Antonio Tarver on Saturday night in a matchup of the world's best light heavyweights.
The Staples Center crowd cheered throughout the final round, and when it ended, both fighters thrust their fists into the air, proclaiming victory.
The winner proved to be Johnson, who overcame Tarver's 4-inch height advantage to win, mainly by being the aggressor through most of the 12-round bout.
Judges Melvina Lathan and Chuck Giampa scored the bout 115-113 in favor of Johnson. Judge Marty Denkin had it 116-112 for Tarver. The Associated Press scored it 115-113 for Tarver.
The 6-foot-2 1/2 Tarver, a solid favorite, said he thought he won by dictating the pace and throwing the harder punches.
''I thought I hit him with some clean shots and hurt him around the fourth or fifth round,'' he said. ''But Johnson was the better man this evening.''
Johnson refused to say he was the best light heavyweight in the world.
''I'm still looking for Mr. Best. I would never say that I was the best,'' he said.
Johnson said Tarver didn't hurt him.
''He knocked me off balance a couple times, but I was never hurt,'' Johnson said. ''It was a real close fight. I'd like to fight him again.''
When asked if he would take a rematch, Tarver replied: ''Our course.''
Tarver lost a controversial 12-round decision to Jones in November 2003 before stopping him in the second round May 15. Johnson knocked Jones out in the ninth round Sept. 25.
Both fighters gave up championships for the fight. The WBC stripped Tarver of his belt for not agreeing to fight mandatory challenger Paul Briggs of Australia. Johnson decided to relinquish the IBF version rather than fight the organization's top challenger, Rico Hoye.
Nevertheless, Tarver entered the ring wearing a red crown.
Jones was 49-1 and considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world before losing to Tarver. Jones worked as a commentator on the HBO telecast of the bout and said afterward he thought Tarver won.
The 35-year-old Johnson raised his record to 42-9-2 with 28 knockouts. He didn't begin to box until he was 20 and turned professional three years later.
Tarver, 36, is 22-3 with 18 knockouts.
Johnson, who grew up in Jamaica and moved to Miami when he was 14, weighed 174 1/4. Tarver, from Tampa, Fla., weighed 175 pounds.
There were no knockdowns.
Tarver and Johnson each received a guaranteed $1.05 million.
Promoter Joe DeGuardia said Tarver would earn more than another $1 million, based on profits from the show on Saturday night.
Johnson clearly won the first round. Tarver became more aggressive at the beginning of the second, and landed a solid left hand to the head that stunned Johnson as the fourth round ended.
Johnson seemed the fresher and more aggressive of the two in the fifth round, but Tarver dominated the sixth, although Johnson took several good shots without backing off.
By the eighth round, Johnson's face was puffy in several places.
Tarver backed off in the 10th round, drawing boos from the crowd. Johnson threw several wild punches that missed in the final seconds of the round.
Tarver staggered Johnson with a left to the head one minute into the 11th round, but Johnson didn't back off. Tarver went down with 25 seconds left in the round but referee Pat Russell quickly indicated he slipped.
Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward of Oakland, Calif., made a successful professional debut on the undercard, stopping Christopher Molina of Odessa, Tex., at 40 seconds of the second round. The bout was scheduled for four rounds.
Ward, 20, weighed 165 pounds. He became the first American boxer to win an Olympic gold medal since 1996 at Athens last summer, prevailing in the 178-pound division.
Among those with ringside seats were Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa; former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, and current heavyweight contender James Toney.
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