Former unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez headlined Madison Square Garden for the first time and scraped a controversial victory.
Lopez improved to 18-1 with a hard-earned split decision win over Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin. The bout was a ten-round final eliminator for the WBC crown.
One judge had the bout 95-94 for Martin, while two others had it 96-93 and 97-92 for Lopez.
The scores divided opinion ultimately, as many saw Martin win the fight.
Lopez was initially scheduled to fight Jose Pedraza, but a non-COVID-related illness forced the Puerto Rican contender to pull out of the fight.
Martin, who defeated Mikey Garcia in a career-best win, immediately accepted the opportunity on three weeks’ notice.
Lopez initiated the bout in his usual fashion by taking the center of the ring and trying to control the action with speed and power.
But at the end of the round, the two accidentally clashed heads, which evidently broke Martin’s nose and bothered him for the rest of the fight.
Martin’s quick footwork also began to cause problems in the opening minutes, especially as he used his lead right hand to lure Lopez in.
In the second round, Martin was successful with that strategy and even dropped Lopez with a counter right hook.
Lopez then spent the rest of the fight trying to attack Martin and counter him when he committed to his punches.
Martin successfully prevented Lopez from positioning himself to land combinations, but at times he was more concerned with evading shots than exchanging with Lopez.
In the seventh, he dropped Lopez again.
Lopez appeared to fight more urgently as the fight ended, while Martin seemed to think he had won the fight.
After the contest, a grateful Lopez said, “It’s so hard to fight somebody like this when they’re running the whole time.
“Every time this guy committed, I countered and got him every time. He just ran the whole time. It’s OK, though.
“We got a lot to work on. But first off, I want to thank God for this. No matter what it was. I apologize to everybody tonight.
“This is not how we perform. But, listen, our dancer partner was running the whole time.”
He added: “Every time this man wanted to commit, I was countering him and tagging him. That’s why he was running the whole time.
“I felt great overall. I knew he was tired. He didn’t want to commit. He was staying on his back foot and running around the whole time.
“But it is what it is. This makes it look good. These guys are going to want to fight me now. More than ever. This is great. Now I can actually have a good fight.”
Teofimo Lopez concluded with who he wants next: “We would love to fight Josh Taylor. We would love to fight Regis Prograis.
“Or even a rematch with George Kambosos. My whole thing now is just staying focused and staying devoted.”
After losing the decision, Martin was critical of the outcome.
“It was a surprise with the judges. I won this fight clearly. For one judge, I only won two rounds? Really? There were two knockdowns.
“The referee didn’t count one of the knockdowns. He missed all of his punches. That’s a masterclass of boxing. That’s a robbery. But that’s the sport of boxing.
“In the ring, I controlled all the action. The timing. The moments. In the ring, I control everything with my will.
“Teofimo was overanxious. In the eighth round, his corner told him, ‘Hey, let’s do it. You could lose this fight.'”
He added: “It wasn’t just the broken nose. I only had three weeks of preparation. The broken nose was from an accidental headbutt. But I didn’t worry about this.
“I knew that it would hurt every time he punched me there. But he didn’t punch me.
“But he touched me three times? Four times, maximum? Really? You win with this?”