Yordenis Ugas outboxed the champion, frustrated the champion and celebrated as if he were the new champion.
Then, judges Steve Morrow and Max DeLuca turned in scorecards that differed, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. roared, “And still …,” and Shawn Porter had instead retained his World Boxing Council welterweight belt by split decision.
Judge Zachary Young scored the bout 117-111 in Ugas’ favor after the Cuban fought as the aggressor for most of the chilly, 54-degree evening and provided theatrics — like urging Porter to the middle of the ring — that seemed to indicate an upset was at hand. But Morrow, by his 116-112 card, and DeLuca (115-113) allowed Porter (30-2-1) to retain his belt at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.
“There’s no doubt about it, I was robbed tonight,” a distraught Ugas said after storming out of the ring without speaking to Fox, which employs Porter as a studio analyst. “After the first round, I figured him out and dominated the fight.”
It was Porter’s first title defense after claiming the vacant belt from former two-division champion Danny Garcia in September.
This bout was a far more complex outing for Porter, who originally weighed in nearly two pounds over the welterweight limit Friday before ordering a final-seconds haircut to make the weight, keeping his belt and avoiding a 20% penalty of his $1.25-million purse.
Whether it was the drain of that stress — he said it wasn’t — or the uncertainty over how to compete with the puzzling Ugas (23-4), Porter performed out of character and seemed numb at the final bell, as if he were expecting defeat. Instead of his typical volume punching and aggression, Porter paused and saved his heaviest blows for the limited occasions when he and Ugas exchanged blows. The inaction drew occasional jeers from the crowd.
In one of only the two rounds that the three judges completely agreed upon, Ugas swept the cards in the fourth round and prompted Porter to engage in toe-to-toe action in the fifth that brought roars from those in attendance.
“The crowd was expecting a big brawl, but that’s not the way this fight needed to go tonight,” Porter said afterward. “That style we used left the fight close. We got the win, we’re still champion and we’re looking forward to what is next.”
Earlier, welterweight Abel Ramos overcame a second-round knockdown at the hands of veteran Santa Barbara fighter Francisco Santana and emerged with a victory by unanimous decision.
Arizona’s Ramos (24-3-2) rallied with activity, crisp jabs and effective scoring blows that convinced judges Alejandro Rochin (95-94), Fernando Villarreal (97-92) and Lou Moret (98-92) to make him the winner.
Despite a nosebleed, Ramos had Santana (25-7-1) in big trouble in the seventh by landing hard right uppercuts and a combination that sent Santana reeling backward. Uppercuts delivered by both of Ramos’ hands rocked Santana, who appeared grateful the bell rang. Santana had knocked down Ramos in the second, but the power of his early aggression began to fade as the bout wore on and Ramos swept rounds four, seven, eight and nine on the scorecards.