LAS VEGAS — For two rounds, Reggie Johnson looked like a middleweight champion Saturday. He had had James Toney on the deck, in the second round, and he had won the first two rounds.
But after that, the Long Beach fighter fought passively when he should have fought aggressively, allowed Toney set the pace of the bout, backed off from numerous opportunities to finish the champion and suffered his first loss since 1985.
Toney won a split decision before 2,555 at the Las Vegas Hilton, keeping the International Boxing Federation championship he won in May when he knocked out Michael Nunn.
Scoring the fight for Toney were judges Ricardo Bays (114-113) and Patricia Jarman (115-112). Judge Mike Glienna had Johnson winning, 114-113. The Times card had Toney winning, 115-112. Johnson had won 22 in a row.
Toney finished the fight with a cut over his left eye, the result of being hit by Johnson's head with 1:20 left in the 12th and final round. Even then, however, Johnson seemed unwilling to open up against Toney, who was plainly troubled by the badly bleeding cut.
In the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and 11th rounds, Johnson backed away from Toney after he seemed to have stunned him. Each time, the slower Toney recovered and forced the action on the retreating Johnson.
In the second round, it appeared the championship was about to change hands in a short fight. Johnson (29-2-1) caught Toney (27-0-1) with a wide left hook that dropped him. Toney was up quickly, but all three judges scored it a 10-8 round for Johnson.
Toney had a big eighth, when he caught Johnson flush on the jaw with a right hand in Johnson's corner 10 seconds into the round, then caught him again with the same punch near the end of the round.
Johnson's last chance, it seemed, was in the 11th. He stunned Toney with a left-right combination to Toney's head, but again backed away.