LOS ANGELES -- Julio Cesar Ceja had been knocked down in the fourth round, was in major trouble and trailed on all three scorecards, but he came roaring back in the fifth round to score a punishing knockout of Hugo Ruiz on Saturday night at the Staples Center.
With the victory, Ceja claimed a vacant junior featherweight interim title on the Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares undercard.
"I was very well prepared. I was surprised when I got dropped but I felt good," Ceja said. "I felt mentally well and I knew I could come back."
The Mexican countrymen were fighting for an interim 122-pound belt, but Ceja is likely to soon become the full titleholder. The full title is held by Santa Cruz, but win or lose in the main event, he is likely to remain at featherweight. If he does Ceja will take over the full title.
If Santa Cruz elects to return to junior featherweight -- and he will have about a month to decide -- he would have to face Ceja in a mandatory fight.
Ruiz and Ceja fought on even terms through the first two rounds, but Ruiz had a huge third round. He knocked Ceja down with a clean left hook and had him in all kinds of trouble in the last minute of the round. He had him on the ropes and was firing combinations. A right hand badly buckled Ceja along the ropes in the final seconds of the round.
Ruiz, who had a four-inch height advantage at 5-foot-9½ -- very tall for a junior featherweight -- could barely miss with his long right hand. He buckled Ceja with two of them in the fourth round.
Through the fourth round, Ruiz was ahead on all three scorecards -- 40-35, 39-36 and 38-37 -- but Ceja (30-1, 27 KOs) came storming back in the fifth round when he scored a very hard knockdown, dropping Ruiz flat on his back with a left hook to the chin.
Ruiz (35-3, 31 KOs), 28, was unsteady but made it to his feet and got crushed during Ceja's follow-up assault. Ceja, 22, rocked him several times in a punishing sequence until Ruiz fell into a corner post and referee Raul Caiz stepped in to wave off the fight at 2 minutes, 34 seconds.
"At first it was difficult because Ruiz was moving too much," Ceja said. "But I figured it out and I knew I would win." Ceja added that he hoped Santa Cruz would return to junior featherweight so he could face him in what would be the most significant fight of Ceja's career.
Ceja had one previous world title shot, but lost a majority decision to Jamie McDonnell in a vacant bantamweight world title fight in McDonnell's home country of England in May 2013. He made up for that loss against Ruiz, winning his sixth fight in a row.
Angulo stops Munoz in brawl
Popular Mexican brawler Alfredo Angulo and journeyman opponent Hector Munoz slugged it out in an entertaining albeit one-sided fight, until Munoz's corner stopped it after the fifth round of their 163-pound catchweight bout.
It was a brawl from the outset, although the heavier-handed Angulo was getting the better of the action as he rocked Munoz repeatedly, especially with his right hand. In the fourth round, an accidental head-butt ripped open a bloody cut over Munoz's right eye.
Angulo landed several clean right hands in the fifth round to drive Munoz back and then dropped him to his knees with a crunching right hand with about 10 seconds left in the round. Munoz got to his feet but his corner stopped the fight after the round.
"I feel really good. I worked and used my jab. I've never used my jab too much and tonight I tried to use it more and more and more," Angulo said. "When I fought in June [and won], it had been a long time since I fought and I was fighting in a new weight class. To be honest, I was nervous and today I was more comfortable."
Angulo (24-5, 20 KOs), 33, and Munoz (23-16-1, 15 KOs), 37, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, agreed to fight at 162 pounds, but before the weigh-in the contract was changed to 163 pounds because Angulo could not make weight. He paid Munoz an additional $10,000 to make the change.
Angulo won his second fight in a row against a low-level opponent following a three-fight losing streak to Erislandy Lara, Canelo Alvarez and James De La Rosa.
• Welterweight Jessie Roman (20-2, 9 KOs), of Garden Grove, California, cruised to a unanimous decision against Hector Serrano (17-5, 5 KOs), of Huntington Park, California, winning 79-72 on all three scorecards. In the seventh round, Roman connected with a clean right uppercut that dropped Serrano to his rear end.
• Middleweight Brian Castano (13-0, 9 KOs), of Argentina, dominated Jonathan Batista (14-7, 7 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, but also took a beating below the belt in a fourth-round disqualification victory. Castano knocked Batista to his rear end with a left hook in the second round and opened an even bigger lead in the third round when referee Ray Corona twice took a point from Batista for low blows. In the fourth round, Batista nailed Castano with another low blow and Corona took a third point. Moments later, Batista went low yet again and Corona disqualified him at 1 minute, 15 seconds.
• Middleweight Alan Castano (9-0, 6 KOs), of Argentina, and the younger brother of Brian Castano, who also fought on the card, battered Thomas Howard (8-5, 4 KOs), of Trenton, Michigan, in a fourth-round knockout victory. He was bashing Howard around the ring and had busted up his left eye when the fight was finally called off at 2 minutes, 11 seconds of the fourth round of their six-rounder.
• Los Angeles welterweight Anthony Flores (9-0, 5 KOs) ground out a tough six-round majority decision against Curtis Morton (3-5-3, 0 KOs), of Harlem, New York. It was a grueling fight in which they traded punches back and forth for most of the fight, including tons of body punches. In the end, Flores got the nod 58-56 on two scorecards while the third judge scored the bout 57-57.
• Delano, California, super middleweight Paul Mendez (20-2-2, 10 KOs) easily defeated Mexico's Andrik Saralegui (19-2, 15 KOs). Mendez dropped Saralegui, who was cut over his right eye, to a knee with a series of right hands to the head in the second round and Saralegui quit on his stool after the round.
• Bantamweight Isaiah Najera (1-1), of Yakima, Washington, pulled an upset by outpointing Los Angeles' Antonio Santa Cruz (0-1), the cousin of headliner Leo Santa Cruz, who was making his professional debut. In a back-and-forth fight, Najera was awarded a majority decision, winning 39-37 on two scorecards while one judge scored the fight 38-38.
• Los Angeles junior featherweight Jose Gomez (3-0, 0 KOs) cruised to a shutout decision against Manuel Rubalcava (2-14), winning 40-36 on all three scorecards.