It was supposed to be a return to form for Robert Guerrero, a relatively easy win against an unknown to get his confidence back and put him on the path to a title fight.
Instead, it was a 10-round welterweight war that came down to the smallest of margins, as Guerrero held on to beat Aron Martinez by split decision Saturday afternoon at StubHub Center.
The decision, which generated some cheers but mostly boos from the crowd, came down to judge Jerry Cantu's 97-92 score in favor of Guerrero after the two other judges tallied the fight at 95-94, one for each fighter.
"I thought I won the fight," Martinez said. "I thought that one scorecard was way out of line. … I'm very happy with my performance."
From the get-go, Martinez (19-4-1) showed he was unafraid to engage Guerrero (33-3-1) and go blow for blow. Early on in the first round, he landed a hard jab to Guerrero's left eye, causing it to swell significantly.
In the opening rounds, the two bounced along the ropes, slugging it out and landing plenty of body shots in equal measure. Any time Martinez appeared to gain an edge, connecting on a combination or pushing Guerrero back, the Gilroy, Calif., native would bounce back and land enough body shots to even the score.
Then, at the end of the fourth round, Martinez broke loose with a hard left to Guerrero's body, followed by a right hook that sent the onetime world champion to the canvas. It was the earliest Guerrero has gone down in his professional career, but any momentum Martinez might have gained died as the bell rang before the fight could restart.
"He was coming in headfirst, and as soon as he started to do that, it threw me off," Guerrero said. "There's just something about this arena that makes you want to stand there and trade."
He bounced back in the fifth round to keep things close, and as the fight wore on, his conditioning and experience proved key. While Martinez slowed slightly, Guerrero continued to pepper him with fewer big hits but a higher volume of jabs. Overall, Guerrero threw 571 punches, connecting on 120 of them; Martinez threw 451 punches, finding the target 114 times.
"[My corner] wanted me to get on my jab and box a little bit more, so that's what I did," Guerrero said.
The two boxers clinched more and more toward the end of the fight as they tired, but in the final round, with the outcome still very much uncertain, both came out swinging freely. In the final 10 seconds, Martinez rallied a final burst of energy for a vicious body-head combo, but Guerrero retaliated with a few hooks of his own.
Before the decision was announced, Guerrero donned a T-shirt with the face of his cousin, who he said had died earlier in the week.
"This fight, this fight was for her," he said.