ARLINGTON, Texas -- Guillermo Rigondeaux was caught trying to defect from Cuba and kicked off the island nation's national boxing team in 2007. It seemed as though the two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the greatest amateurs ever would never be heard from again.
But Rigondeaux escaped Cuba and defected in 2009, and on Saturday night, he claimed an interim junior featherweight title in just his seventh professional bout when he won a split decision against former titlist Ricardo Cordoba on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard at Cowboys Stadium.
Granted, Rigondeaux's new title is only an interim belt, but it is still highly unusual for a fighter to win any kind of world title in so few fights.
Rigondeaux claimed his belt, but did not do so in a fashion that will win him a lot of fans. He was defensive and moved a lot, but his slippery defense and more accurate punching was enough to bank rounds against Panama's Cordoba.
Two judges had it for Rigondeaux, 117-109 and 114-112. The third had it for Cordoba, 114-112. ESPN.com also had it 117-109 for Rigondeaux.
"I trained very hard for this fight. I was prepared for 12 rounds. It was my first title fight and I was ready," Rigondeaux said. "I gave him a boxing lesson. I thought I won every round. It was an easy fight. On the knockdown, I slipped."
Cordoba, 27, tried to pressure Rigondeaux, 29, but could not get him to engage. Instead, Rigondeaux would punch, usually landed two quick shots, and then move to the side. It was not pretty to watch, but it was effective.
Rigondeaux, who lives in Miami and trains with Ronnie Shields in Houston, won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 and had approximately 400 amateur fights, the reason he has been moved so quickly in the pros.
Rigondeaux (7-0, 5 KOs) dropped Cordoba (37-3-2, 23 KOs) in the fourth round with a body shot that deposited him on his backside. However, Cordoba got the point back when he was credited with a knockdown in the sixth round. He clipped Rigondeaux with a right hand and Rigondeaux touched his glove to the canvas to steady himself, although he did not appear hurt.
"The guy was on his bicycle," Cordoba said. "He came to the USA and he ran because he thought he was going to get the decision."
Rigondeaux looked almost disinterested at times he was winning so easily, although he did crack a smile in the final seconds as if to taunt Cordoba, who was a huge step up in pro competition.
Rigondeaux landed 125 of 448 punches (28 percent) and Cordoba connected on 78 of 506 (15 percent), according to CompuBox.
Jones edges Soto Karass
Philadelphia welterweight Mike Jones (23-0, 18 KOs) walked through fire in the toughest fight of his career to claim an unpopular majority decision against Mexico's Jesus Soto Karass (24-5-3, 16 KOs) in a hard-hitting fight.
Jones came into the fight knowing that a victory could pave the way for a fight in early 2011 against England's Kell Brook for an interim title. But he had all he could handle from Soto Karass. Despite cuts around both eyes, Soto Karass was relentless as he and Jones exchanged big punches throughout the fight.
Two judges had Jones winning, 97-93 and 95-94, while the third had it 94-94.
The crowd came alive in the second round when Jones and Soto Karass went to battle, standing toe-to-toe and trading for most of the round. But Jones got the better of it, rocking him several times and landed 42 of 90 punches in the round.
Jones opened a cut over Soto Karass' right eye in the third round, but Soto Karass pressed the action while Jones looked perhaps a bit winded after throwing so many punches in the second round. They spent the rest of the fight exchanging with Soto Karass getting cut on his other eye and Jones' face swelling.
• Oxnard, Calif., junior welterweight Brandon Rios (26-0-1, 19 KOs), at the center of a prefight controversy, put it behind him and routed Omri Lowther (14-3, 10 KOs) for a fifth-round TKO.
Rios, part of Margarito's camp, pressured Lowther from the outset. He landed numerous hard lefts to the body and displayed a powerful attack to the head. Lowther was usually on the defensive. Rios staggered him in the fifth round multiple times and, with Lowther unable to defend himself, referee Raul Caiz Jr. called it off at 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
In the days leading to the fight, Rios, who is trained by Robert Garcia, who also trains Margarito, was seen in a video that spread across the Internet in which he was seen mocking Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach's Parkinson's symptoms, which upset Roach.
Rios also failed to make weight. The fight was contracted at 139 pounds, but Rios was originally weighed 140.25. After leaving the stage to try to lose weight, he came back and was still 139.2. But his team cut a deal with Lowther to pay him an undisclosed amount of Rios' $105,000 purse to go through with the fight.
"I really need this," Rios said. "I had two weeks' notice. I was too heavy in camp and sluggish but we got through it."
Rios was originally scheduled to fight on a Top Rank pay-per-view card Dec. 4, but was offered the spot on the HBO PPV undercard Saturday to replace Kelly Pavlik, who withdrew.
• Featherweight Roberto Marroquin (16-0, 13 KOs), a Dallas fighter with hometown support, crushed Francisco Dominguez (8-8, 2 KOs) in short order. Displaying a powerful left hand, Marroquin dropped Dominguez and then finished him moments later with a combination as referee Raul Caiz Jr. stepped in at 1 minute, 27 seconds.
• Light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee (3-0, 2 KO), who has received a lot of publicity because he's a Notre Dame graduate, blew out Keith Debow (0-3-1) in 1 minute, 33 seconds. Debow showed nothing as Lee, 23, of Chicago, went right at him and began to tee off. He trapped him in the corner and had Debow on the defensive immediately. Finally, Lee clocked him with a right hand to the side of the head and Debow went down. He did not appear to want to continue and was counted out. Lee is not your average boxing prospect. He graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with a finance degree but eschewed a Wall Street job to pursue professional boxing, which he started doing at age 16.
• Houston's Angel Rodriguez (6-4-2, 1 KO) pulled the upset with a four-round decision against junior lightweight Juan Martin Elorde (11-1, 4 KOs). Elorde is the grandson of Filipino great Flash Elorde, the International Boxing Hall of Famer and former junior lightweight champion who held his title for seven years in the 1960s. Rodriguez won 40-36 (twice) and 39-37.
• Junior welterweight Jose Benavidez Jr. (9-0, 9 KOs), Top Rank's 18-year-old blue chip prospect from Phoenix, scored three knockdowns en route to a third-round knockout of Winston Mathis (6-3, 2 KOs). Benavidez dropped Mathis twice in the first round on body shots and then nailed him with a right hand in the third round and referee Neil Young called it off at 2 minutes, 33 seconds. Mathis was incensed and appeared to put his hands on Young in protesting the stoppage.
• The last time flyweight Richie Mepranum (17-3-1, 3 KOs) of the Philippines, who is promoted by Pacquiao, was in the ring, Julio Cesar Miranda dropped him three times and stopped him in the fifth round to win a vacant flyweight title in June. In his first since that disappointing loss, Mepranum took a split-decision from Anthony Villareal (10-4, 5 KOs). Mepranum was awarded the fight 58-56 on two scorecards while Villareal was given the fight by the same score by one judge.
• Junior welterweight Oscar Meza (20-4, 17 KOs) of Mexico punctuated his unanimous decision win against Fort Worth's Jose Hernandez (10-3, 4 KOs) with a knockdown in the final moments of their four-rounder. Meza landed a right hand that dropped Hernandez to his backside just before the final bell and went on to win on scores of 39-36 and 38-37 (twice).
• Welterweight Dennis Laurente (35-3-4, 17 KOs) of the Philippines took an eight-round decision from Los Angeles' Rashad Holloway (11-2-2, 5 KOs) in the opener of the 11-fight card. In a spirited bout, Laurente won on all three scorecards, 79-73, 78-74 and 77-75. Halloway prepared for the fight as one of Pacquiao's sparring partners.