Though it was not an official elimination fight for a shot at a world title, former welterweight world titleholders Devon Alexander and Victor Ortiz both badly needed a victory against a well-known opponent to have a chance to land another significant fight.
Instead they fought to a dubious draw, though Alexander clearly seemed to have a big edge, in the exciting main event of a prime-time Premier Boxing Champions card at the Don Haskins Center on the UTEP campus in El Paso, Texas.
One judge scored the fight 115-113 for Ortiz and the other two each had it 114-114. ESPN.com scored the fight 118-108 for Alexander, and the Fox broadcast crew also had Alexander clearly winning.
"I absolutely thought I won the fight," Alexander said. "The last few rounds I probably gave him, but I thought I outlanded him in the 12th. I thought I did enough to win. I gave him three rounds.
"My game plan was to be smart. Victor always has problems with people that are faster and have more ring IQ. I wanted to put him in the state of mind that he can't win. Victor is a former champion, and I knew he'd come to fight. He's towards the end of his career so I didn't think it'd be easy. But I definitely thought I edged it out."
Perhaps it was bravado, but Ortiz said he thought he won.
"I thought the decision was a little off. I thought I did enough to win," he said. "The first few rounds were a little complicated. He's a great boxer and he was timing me just right. I wasn't leaving the line of fire. I started pressuring and countering him more as the fight went on. I think I took control of the fight in the second half of the fight.
"I wanted to box the boxer, but I had to make it kind of a brawl. He was going to outpoint me if I didn't."
In the third round, Alexander, 31, of St. Louis, connected with a solid right hook, and fellow southpaw Ortiz's left eye began to swell. Alexander had a big fifth round as he connected repeatedly with jabs and right hooks to force Ortiz back.
"The eye was tough to overcome. I can't really see out of it. I really had to listen to my corner," Ortiz said.
Ortiz, 31, of Ventura, California, landed some solid punches, but Alexander got the better of the action most of the time. He connected with combinations while Ortiz was limited to landing mostly one punch at a time. By the later rounds, even though Ortiz was giving a top effort, he was taking a lot of punches and his legs looked shaky.
Joseph Janik, Ortiz's trainer, didn't outright tell Ortiz he needed a knockout to win before the 12th round, but he urged him to go after Alexander. Ortiz pressured Alexander as he had throughout the bout, but it was not enough to give Alexander any serious problems.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Alexander landed 155 of 485 punches (32 percent) and Ortiz connected with 137-of-550 (25 percent)
Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs), a two-division world titleholder who battled a painkiller addiction, returned from a 25-month layoff to win a comeback fight in November and looked good against Ortiz despite the surprising draw.
Ortiz (32-6-3, 25 KOs), just 3-4 in his last seven fights entering the bout with Alexander, returned from a 15-month layoff in July. Though he has been dogged by questions about his commitment to boxing and his heart, he showed up against Alexander.
They both said they would be open to a rematch.
"This was my first draw, and I hate it. It's a bad feeling because I thought I won, but we'll go back to the drawing board and get better," Alexander said. "I would love a rematch. That's up to my team to see what's next, but I'll fight anybody. I'm a real fighter."
Said Ortiz: "A rematch would be awesome. If both teams agree and the fans want it, let's make it happen."
Plant cruises past Medina
In the co-feature, super middleweight up-and-comer Caleb Plant took a step up in the level of his opposition against Rogelio "Porky" Medina and rolled to a one-sided unanimous decision in a world title elimination fight.
In his first scheduled 12-round bout, Plant won in dominant fashion, 120-108, 119-109 and 117-111. He moved a step closer to a mandatory shot at the 168-pound world title belt held by Caleb Truax, who won it in a massive upset by outpointing James DeGale on Dec. 9 in DeGale's hometown of London.
Had former world title challenger Medina (38-9, 32 KOs), 29, of Mexico, defeated Plant, he would not have moved closer to the title fight because he was overweight at Friday's weigh-in, coming in at 168.6 pounds.
"It was a tough fight against a tough competitor who puts everything on the line. We got the job done," Plant said. "I stuck to the game plan, and I did exactly what I said I was going to do. I boxed his ears off. I want Caleb Truax. He was calling me out when I was 12-0. I'm on the doorstep knocking now. Let's see if he still wants it."
Plant (17-0, 10 KOs), 25, a native of Ashland, Tennessee, fighting out of Las Vegas, toyed with the slower, less skilled Medina for most of the fight, though Medina, with nothing to lose, went for broke in the last couple of rounds looking for a breakthrough as he applied intense pressure. He was unable to land any decisive punches on Plant, who raised his hands in victory as he danced around the ring in the final seconds.
"He never had me hurt, but I found his style very difficult," Medina said. "He moves a lot, and he's pretty quick, so that was tough to deal with. I think I felt the struggle to make weight a little bit. I was a little tired in the later rounds, and it probably was due to the drain to make weight. But it is what it is."
According to CompuBox, Plant landed 172 of 517 punches (33 percent) and Medina landed just 65-of-408 (16 percent).
In another televised bout, 21-year-old lightweight prospect Karlos Balderas (4-0, 3 KOs), a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Santa Maria, California, was pushed by Jorge Rojas (4-3-1, 2 KOs), 27, of Mexico, but won by shutout scores of 40-36 on all three scorecards.
Balderas went into the second round for the first time in his pro career. He hurt Rojas with a right hand moments after the fight started and was in command, though Rojas was game.
In another undercard fight, former junior middleweight world titlist Austin Trout (31-4, 17 KOs), 32, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, cruised to a shutout decision -- 80-72 on all three scorecards -- against Juan De Angel (20-8-1, 18 KOs), 30, of Colombia. Trout was coming off losses in back-to-back world title fights to Jermall Charlo by decision and Jarrett Hurd by 10th-round knockout.