Harold Johnson vs. Willie Pastrano

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Tale of the Tape

Willie Pastrano 174 lbs beat Harold Johnson 174 lbs by SD in round 15 of 15

  • Unofficial AP scorecard: 70-69 Pastrano
  • Unofficial UPI scorecard: 69-68 Johnson
  • World Light Heavyweight Championship (2nd defense by Johnson)
  • Fight Photo

Pastrano Wins In Split Decision Over Johnson

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) — Underrated Willie Pastrano won the light heavyweight championship of the world Saturday night, punching out a split decision over Harold Johnson in the biggest upset of the year in the fight game.

An underdog at odds that ranged up to 6-1 in this gambling mecca, the 27-year-old Pastrano, from North Miami Beach, Fla., brought a crowd of some 5,000 to its feet in a rousing 15th round that clinched the victory.

Johnson, a tired man of 34 after the grueling contest, weighed 173½. Pastrano weighed 174.

The suspense was intense as the ring announcer rounded up the scoring slips. Most of the crowd at the Las Vegas Convention Center thought Pastrano was the winner, and a groan arose when it was revealed there was a split decision.

The suspense didn't last long.

Referee Jimmy Olives scored it 69 for Pastrano and 68 for Johnson. Judge John Romero had it 69-68 for Johnson. But Judge Harrt Krause shifted the nod to the New Orleans-born Italian, 69-67.

The Associated Press scored it 70-69 for the new champion.

Johnson, who won clear claim to the world title in a fight with Doug Jones last year, almost pulled the fight out of the fire with a smashing right to the jaw in the 13th round. It buckled Willie's knees.

But the remarkable Pastrano, recuperating instantly, danced out of danger and was popping lefts away at Johnson's chin for the rest of the round.

Johnson continued his desperate comeback in the 14th, and won the round. But it was the phantom from Florida who took the play in the final three minutes, jabbing, and retreating, as Johnson tried his best to get in a knockout punch.

Willie built up an early lead in the first five rounds. But Johnson, landing effectively to the body, narrowed the gap and it was a fast, action-filled fight from there on.

Johnson had the longer reach by three inches but, while it might not have appeared so to the television audience, Pastrano was able to successfully roll and bob away from many of the big punches from the champion.

Johnson trapped Pastrano in a neutral corner in the fourth, but there was no running away for Pastrano—who is noted for his hit-and-run strategy.

Willie slugged his way out of the corner as both traded punches in a fast flurry.

As the decision was announced at the fight's end, Pastrano manager Angelo Dundee and trainer Lou Grosse leaped high with joy. It was the first time Pastrano, in 13 years of boxing, had ever had a title opportunity.

The new champion, the father of five youngsters, shouted: "I'm very, very happy."

Johnson, who won the National Boxing Association version of the division in 1961, had not lost a fight since 1955.

Managers indicated there will probably be a rematch.


  • Pastrano was a substitute for a substitute in this bout. Johnson's original challenger was Mauro Mina of Peru, who pulled out due to a training injury. The offer then went to Henry Hank of Detroit, who was also injured in training. The offer then fell to Pastrano.
  • Johnson earned $37,000, and Pastrano got $21,250.
  • The fight drew only 2,970 paid fans and about $35,000. In addition, the TV money was $60,000.
  • A UPI poll of 14 sports writers at ringside favored Johnson 9-5.
  • Two boxing writers for the Las Vegas SUN reported unofficial cards. Alan Laythorpe scored it 70-69 and Ross Tucker scored it 72-66, both for Johnson.

Post Fight Comments

  • Johnson: "I never heard of a fighter running and still winning the fight. If you want to fight the champion, you have to take the fight to him."
  • Pastrano: "I tried to outsmart him. I fought a cautious fight. Johnson hits hard. It was close, I admit. I don't know who I'll fight next."
  • Johnson: "I want a rematch with Pastrano, but I don't think he'll fight me again."
  • Pastrano: "I knew I had it in the 10th round."
  • Johnson: "I'm just disgusted about this fight."
  • Pat Olivier, Johnson's manager: "Harold chased him all over the ring."

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