LAS VEGAS -- Only four months after his spectacular knockout of Simon Brown, International Boxing Federation junior middleweight champion Vincent Pettway, of Baltimore, was upset by relatively obscure challenger Paul Vaden at the MGM Grand Garden.
Trailing on all three judges' cards by a point going into last night's 12th and final round, San Diego's Vaden caught Pettway in a neutral corner and unleashed a barrage of punches until referee Richard Steele intervened with 27 seconds left in the fight.
"I can't believe I let myself get beat by this guy," said Pettway, his battered eyes covered by dark glasses. "I wasn't satisfied with my performance after looking so spectacular against a tenacious fighter like Simon Brown."
Vaden, 24-0 but with only 11 knockouts, surprised Pettway with his punching power and effective counters.
He staggered the 29-year-old champion repeatedly with sneak right hands and lightning combinations, all but closing Pettway's right eye.
Pettway (38-5-1), who gave up almost five inches in height, managed to catch the eyes of the officials with his strong body attack.
But in the last four rounds, Vaden got the estimated crowd of 5,000 behind him as he scored cleanly and repeatedly beat the Baltimorean to the punch.
Pettway, who earned $250,000 compared to Vaden's $35,000 purse, admitted that his stamina began to wane in the closing rounds.
"I don't know why," he said. "I thought I was well-conditioned, but I was a little winded at the end, and it might have been due to running in the desert heat."
But Pettway, making his second title defense since winning the 154-pound title by knocking out Gianfranco Rosi, never seemed to get his rhythm.
He was lunging at Vaden, who used a matador style in the opening rounds, scoring mainly with sharp jabs. But Vaden would stop his retreat often enough to catch Pettway off-balance with sneak rights and left hand counters. They did not appear to pack unusual power, but Pettway would give ground and lose his balance.
A sharp combination by Vaden opened a cut in the corner of Pettway's eye in the seventh round. From that point on, Vaden, who compiled a stellar 314-10 record as an amateur, gained confidence.
He stole a number of the late rounds with eye-catching flurries as Pettway, sensing his title slipping away, tried to land a knockout punch.
Pettway said he was unaware he was leading on the scorecards in the final round when he fought so desperately.
"My corner told me I had to win the last round, and I may have left myself open. I felt I had enough left to finish the fight. I'm sorry Steele stopped it. But I showed I had a champion's heart."
But Vaden, skillfully trained by one-time middleweight contender David Love, would not permit the champion to catch him with the wicked left hook that left Brown twitching on the USAir canvas last April.
Steele has been criticized in the past for stopping fights too quickly. But this time, there would be no protest from the loser's corner. Pettway's chief cornermen, manager-trainer Mack Lewis and cutman Eddie Mafuz, seemed both stunned and resigned by the ending.
Pettway, decked in his familiar red, white and blue trunks, had pressed Vaden from the opening bell. Vaden landed a right that vaught Pettway off-balance, but the champion countered with a right of his own. But then Vaden closed the round with an effective combination.
Vaden, a slender 6 feet 1, used his height and reach advantage to score points with his jab in the second round. An impatient crowd urged the fighters to pick up the pace.
Vaden used his boxing ability early in the third round. But Pettway trapped him on the ropes and landed several thumping body shots in the last 20 seconds.
Vaden continued to backpedal in round four with Pettway in quick pursuit. Vaden stopped abruptly and jarred Pettway with a short left hook. Steele warned Pettway for hitting low, and Vaden had done enough to win the round.
Pettway continued to assault Vaden's midsection in the fifth round and stood his challenger straight up with a hook. But Vaden fought back and shook Pettway with a hook. The champion's legs looked wobbly as he returned to the corner.
On the undercard, Oba Carr, of Detroit, used a relentless body attack to overcome the hit-and-run tactics of Washington's Darrell Coley and capture Coley's North American Boxing Federation welterweight title on a split decision.
Carr, who failed vin a bid for Felix Trinidad's WBA crown last December, seemed to win more decisively in landing the heavier punches throughout the lively 12-round bout.
But the judges made it deceptively close. Duane Ford (116-114), and Dickie Cole (115-114) favored Carr while Chuck Giampa had Coley winning 116-114.
The loss was the first for Coley in 30 professional bouts. He had fought two draws.
1% Carr improved his record to 35-1.