LAS VEGAS -- Joshua Clottey promised that he would beat Zab Judah, and in doing so, would punish Judah to the point that he'd cry.
Two out of three ain't bad.
Clottey battered Judah, busted his nose and sliced open his eye, and won a ninth-round technical decision to take home the vacant IBF welterweight crown at the Palms casino on Saturday.
Clottey did not make Judah cry, though. As a matter of fact, if there was any sorrow after the fight it was on the part of Clottey, who could not cleanly put away Judah, a two-time world champion from Brooklyn, N.Y.
With his gutsy performance against Clottey, Judah (36-6, 25 KOs) remains a credible threat in the welterweight division. And because Clottey sustained a pulled biceps in the fifth round of the fight, he might get leap-frogged by Judah in a possible match against Antonio Margarito on Nov. 1 if Clottey isn't healed well enough to take the date.
Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs) campaigned after the fight for a TKO victory instead of a technical decision.
"The cut was caused by a punch and not a head butt," Clottey said. "There was no head butt. I'm sure of that."
Under the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions, the fight goes to the scorecards if there is an accidental foul after four rounds. Referee Robert Byrd ruled that the cut over Judah's right eyelid was caused by an accidental head butt. Dr. James Gane, the ringside physician, said Judah told him that he couldn't see and Judah then failed three separate eye exams that Gane administered on the ring apron at 1:22 of the ninth round.
"Whether it was from a punch or a head butt, it didn't matter," Gane said. "The bottom line is that he [Judah] said he couldn't see."
Clottey had fought the kind of rugged fight that he said he would. The only time he seemed deficient was when Judah kept him in the middle of the ring and boxed. Even then, Judah was merely scoring points and could do nothing to dent Clottey's defense or dissuade him from coming forward. Clottey's right hand found a permanent home on Judah's face and Clottey also found a resting place for his uppercut. Those two weapons made Judah's face a bloody mask after the fourth round.
Judah was having a difficult time breathing and, at one point, looked as though he was going to be only a matter of time before Clottey stopped him. But then the cut opened up and the fight was stopped and it went to the judges' score cards.
Judge Duane Ford scored it 87-84, while judges George Hill and Glenn Trowbridge each scored it 86-85, all for Clottey. Had Hill and Trowbridge scored the last round for Judah, the fight would have been a draw.
That is enough wiggle room for a cat with nine lives named "Lucky Lefty" -- the nickname that Judah gave himself last week to describe his ability to come back from seemingly devastating losses (Kostya Tszyu, Cory Spinks, Carlos Baldomir, Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather).
Now count Clottey as lucky No. 6 on that list of unfortunate fortuitous losses for Judah.
"The whole arena thought I won the fight," Judah said.
Win or lose, it's all the same to Judah -- who still might find himself on the other end of the line when Margarito comes calling for his next opponent.
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.