The first time Erislandy Lara and Vanes Martirosyan fought, it was an unwatchable snoozer that ended in a technical draw.
They met in a rematch Saturday, and it was another fan-unfriendly fight, but it was one Lara won by unanimous decision to retain his junior middleweight world title at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Two judges scored the bout 116-111, and one had it 115-112, as Lara retained his 154-pound crown for the fourth time. ESPN.com also scored the fight 116-111 for Lara.
The pair first met in a November 2012 world title eliminator that featured virtually no action, was filled with fouls that left both men accusing the other of fighting dirty and ended in a technical draw. The end came when Martirosyan was deemed unable to continue after he suffered a bad cut over his left eye from an accidental head-butt early in the ninth round.
The rematch was nearly as action-free and was also filled with fouls.
"This is normal. This is boxing -- not baseball," Lara said through a translator. "Low blows happen and also head-butts. I'm a very intelligent fighter, and at no point did I feel this fight was going to be lost."
In the second round, there was an accidental head-butt, which, given the history, came as no surprise. It was the first of several and raised swelling around Lara's left eye.
Lara (23-2-2, 13 KOs), 33, a former star amateur in Cuba before he defected and settled in Houston, stood his ground instead of running like he often does and landed some solid combinations and crisp straight left hands. Martirosyan targeted Lara's body and attacked it relentlessly, especially in the sixth round. Lara will feel those punches for the next several days. Martirosyan also was effective with his uppercut and left hook.
But the second fight was nearly as lackluster as the first. It was competitive but contained precious little action and two styles that simply did not mesh.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Lara, a southpaw, landed 162 of 424 blows (38 percent), and Martirosyan connected with 94 of 474 (20 percent).
The rematch was made despite zero public demand and not being a mandatory defense for Lara. To make it worse, the fight was slotted as the headliner of the Showtime-televised tripleheader that featured two other junior middleweight world title fights: Jermall Charlo retaining his belt via an entertaining, unanimous decision against former titleholder Austin Trout and twin brother Jermell Charlo coming from behind for an eighth-round knockout of John Jackson to win a vacant title.
Lara-Martirosyan meandered until there was controversy in the 11th round, when Martirosyan, whose body attack was his bread and butter, had a point deducted by overzealous referee Vic Drakulich for a low blow. Television replays showed that Martirosyan's right hand landed on the beltline.
"That was not a low blow," Martirosyan said. "Replays showed it. His trunks were up high. It is what it is. He's the champion. He always has that edge, so I had to do more than him, but I really thought I did."
Martirosyan, who earned $400,000, clearly sensed that he was behind as he attacked Lara with abandon in the 12th round -- the most exciting of the fight. He backed him up and threw a power shots in apparent desperation.
"I was chasing him all night," Martirosyan said. "I put on the pressure. I thought I did enough to win."
A 2004 U.S. Olympian, Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs), 30, of Glendale, California, lost his second crack at a world title. In 2013, he dropped a split decision to Demetrius Andrade. He said he will go back to the gym and work hard to earn a third opportunity.
"I'm ready to go. Anybody. I never ducked anybody," said Martirosyan, who said before the rematch that it was the most important fight of his career. "Nobody wanted to fight Lara. I stepped up to it. I'll fight him again. I'm a fighter. Whenever they give me the call, I'm ready to go."
Lara, who has recently called for a fight with unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, also wants a rematch with lineal middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez, who beat Lara by split decision in a 2014 nontitle bout.
"I will fight anybody," Lara said. "I would like to fight Canelo or anybody."
He is unlikely to get a rematch with Alvarez or a shot at Golovkin, but given the thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, Lara, whose purse Saturday was $700,000, said he would like to someday fight in his homeland, where there is no professional boxing, but there is a storied amateur program in which he starred before his defection.
"My mother and kids are still there," Lara said. "So it would be a great pleasure for me to go and fight in my native country."