Philadelphia middleweight James Shuler advanced to a world title bout Saturday by capturing a 12-round split decision over James Kinchen of San Diego.
Shuler (21-0 with 16 knockouts) will oppose the winner of the April 15 bout between middleweight champion Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns by May or June, promoter Butch Lewis said.
Judges Lawrence Wallace (115-114) and Phil Newman (116-113) awarded Shuler the victory. Judge Charlie Spina gave Kinchen a 115-114 edge.
The 6-foot 1-inch Shuler utilized his four-inch height advantage to keep Kinchen out of range in the earlier rounds. Shuler jabbed constantly and switched gears often to control the tempo. Kinchen made Shuler miss often but failed to follow up with an attack.
Shuler entered as the No. 1 contender and Kinchen was No. 2 in both the World Boxing Assn. and the World Boxing Council.
"I knew I had him hypnotized with my jab," Shuler said. "He was looking at it the whole time, because he wanted to throw a right hand over the top of it. I wouldn't let him do it."
Kinchen, who rallied to win the final two rounds on all three score cards, agreed that early inactivity cost him his first loss in 35 fights.
"I waited too long to put pressure on him," Kinchen said. "I wanted to counterpunch. About the sixth round, my corner told me to step it up and I went after him. We don't think he fights as well under pressure."
Kinchen's best opportunity to win the fight was in the 11th round when he stunned Shuler with a left hook and drove his 25-year-old opponent to the ropes.
Shuler recovered a few seconds later, however, as Kinchen's hurried, looping rights to the head failed to connect solidly.
"You're missing all day and then you connect solidly with that one shot," Kinchen said. "You can get a little overanxious trying to end it all right away."
Eddie Futch, Shuler's trainer, said he advised Shuler to slow the pace through the middle rounds because Shuler was coming off a one-year layoff and had set a fast pace through the early rounds.
Shuler said he changed from his pressing style because he twisted his left ankle midway through the fight.