The match was one-sided and rather unremarkable, even for a title fights in professional boxing. Round after round, two pugilists charged to the center of the squared circle and threw leather at each other with calculated violence. Jesus Chavez, 32, a boxer who had been a world champion a weight class lower, was trying to capture the IBF Lightweight Championship belt from hard-punching Leavander Johnson, 35, a tough-talking fighter from Atlantic City. Instead, Johnson would lose his belt, and on Thursday, five days after the fight, he'd lose his life because of injuries suffered in the ring.
Most of the capacity crowd over 10,000 strong at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last Saturday hadn't even come to see Chavez fight Johnson. They were there for the co-main events: Sugar Shane Mosley versus Jose Luis Cruz and Marco Antonio Barerra versus Robbie Peden. The Chavez/Johnson fight was the undercard. It was clear that Chavez was going to win the fight. Into the early seconds of the 11th round, he had thrown more than 900 punches, more than 400 of which had landed, a significant number to Johnson's head. Until then, though trailing on all the judges' scorecards, Johnson had not looked as if he was in physical danger. In fact, he trashed-talked Chavez at the end of the middle rounds. But in round 11, Chavez came out at the bell with a barrage of body shots and combination punches to the head that left Johnson propped up against the ring ropes, unable to fall while Chavez unloaded. Just 38 seconds into the round, referee Tony Weeks stopped the match. Chavez was the new champ. Johnson told fight doctors he felt fine but then he listlessly shuffled down the walkway to his dressing room, as though he were in some sort of trance. He collapsed and was rushed to University Medical Center in Las Vegas. He had suffered a subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the brain.
Doctors were performing emergency surgery as the post-fight press conference commenced at the MGM Grand. Newly crowned champion Chavez approached the microphone and rather than boasting of his victory, he spoke in a somber tone and expressed genuine concern for his opponent. "I just want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with Leavander and his family," Chavez said. "He could use all of our prayers right now." But no prayers were answered, Johnson remained in a medically-induced coma for five days and was pronounced dead Thursday at 4:23 p.m. Mountain time.