NEW YORK -- Old legs, a 13-month layoff, a career of hard fights and a hungry challenger. It all added up to a tough night at the office for Joel Casamayor, who somehow managed to pull out a split decision to retain the recognized lightweight world title at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The fight was one of the featured bouts on the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley undercard, and when it was over the crowd was booing lustily over the shocking decision.
Judges Ron McNair and Frank Lombardi had it 114-113 for Casamayor and Tony Paolillo had it 114-113 for Santa Cruz, who appeared to dominate from the first round, when he scored a flash knockdown about a minute into the fight after tapping Casamayor with a straight left hand to the body.
ESPN.com had it 119-108 for Santa Cruz (25-3, 14 KOs) and ringside press overwhelmingly had Santa Cruz by a wide decision, as did HBO's unofficial judge, Harold Lederman, who had it 118-109.
"I thought I did enough to win the fight," said Santa Cruz, a former sparring partner of Casamayor's. "It was a hard fight but I definitely thought I won the fight. Listen to the crowd booing. They thought I won the fight."
Casmayor (35-3-1, 21 KOs), who had not fought since October 2006 when he won the title in his rubber match with the late Diego "Chico" Corrales, felt that he did deserve the decision.
"I had a layoff of a whole year and I could feel the ring rust," said Casamayor, who reunited with trainer Joe Goossen for this fight after splitting with him in 2003. "My timing was off but I thought I did enough to win the fight."
After the first-round knockdown, Santa Cruz continued to stalk Casamayor while Casamayor tried to counterpunch and clutched. He grabbed throughout the fight.
Santa Cruz, 27, opened a cut on the outside of Casamayor's left eye with a combination in the fifth round and wobbled him with a right hand against the ropes in the seventh. In the ninth, Santa Cruz landed a combination and Casamayor immediately tied him up.
It was Casamayor's first fight since signing with promoter Golden Boy, which also has Santa Cruz. Although Casamayor, 36, is the Ring magazine champion, he holds only an interim title from a sanctioning organization and it is going to be hard for him to land a lucrative fight.
Santa Cruz had rebounded with two straight wins after being stopped by David Diaz in August 2006. Santa Cruz was dominating the fight and way ahead on the scorecards when he was knocked out in the 10th round and lost his interim belt.
This time, Santa Cruz appeared to also dominate. But this time it was the judges, not a big punch that ended his dream.
Margarito crushes Johnson
Antonio Margarito (35-5, 25 KOs), who lost his welterweight belt on July 14 on a close decision to Paul Williams, returned in style, destroying Golden Johnson at 2:38 of the first round.
Margarito, 29, is a notoriously slow starter but wasted no time putting away the 33-year-old Johnson (25-9-3, 18 KOs), a former lightweight title challenger.
Margarito dropped him for the first time with a right hand. After Johnson struggled to his feet, Margarito pounded him into the ropes and referee Wayne Kelly called it a knockdown because the ropes held him up.
Margarito followed with an onslaught, battering Johnson, who had been off for a year, around the ring until he finally went down again, and Kelly called it off without a count.
"I told everyone that I was going to have a fast start," Margarito said. "I was going to do that for 12 rounds."
The victory puts Margarito in position to challenge the winner of Cotto-Mosley, a fight that he wants. Cotto and Mosley have talked about the possibility of fighting him.
"I showed tonight that I belong at the top of this division," Margarito said. "I just want the opportnity to fight the winner of the main event. I don't care who it is."
• Junior welterweight Victor Ortiz (20-1-1, 15 KOs), the outstanding Oxnard, Calif., prospect, was supposed to be in his first serious fight against former titlist Carlos Maussa. Instead, Ortiz simply blew him away, scoring a stunningly easy knockout at 1:47 of the first round.
After Maussa (19-5, 17 KOs) threw and missed several haymakers, Ortiz landed a right to the body and a left to the head, knocking Maussa down for the count. Maussa made a half-hearted attempt to get to his feet, but was counted out by referee Johnny Callas.
Ortiz, 20, under the wing of trainer and former junior lightweight titlist Robert Garcia, has emerged as one of the sport's top prospects, despite coming from a broken home. His mother left him and his siblings when he was 7 and his abusive father walked out when he was 12.
Ortiz said he knew he would win a quick fight, just not this fast.
"From what I had studied and reviewed [on tape] I didn't think it would be this quick, but I didn't think it would last long," Ortiz said.
He was coming off his biggest win in August, when he stopped Emmanuel Clottey in the final seconds of their 10-round bout. Promoter Bob Arum is talking about matching him with titleholder Ricardo Torres early next year.
Maussa, 36, of Colombia, has lost three in a row, including when he lost his belt via ninth-round TKO loss to Ricky Hatton in November 2005. Maussa, who lost a decision to Manuel Garnica in August 2006 in his last fight, also was knocked out by Cotto in 2003.
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.