Timothy Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs) defeated previously unbeaten Jessie Vargas (26-1, 9 KOs) by a unanimous decision on Saturday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
But there was drama and confusion in the final moments of the fight before Bradley won by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-112.
American Bradley took the fight to his countryman Vargas from the first round. Vargas did land some punches of his own and rocked the former two-division world champion in the fifth but Bradley came right back. He was landing hard shots with both hands throughout and Vargas had no answer until the 12th. The WBA light welterweight champion came on strong in the last round and tagged Bradley with a a big right hand in the closing seconds.
However, the referee Pat Russell stopped the contest with several seconds still remaining having thought he had heard the final bell, when in fact it was the clapper to signal 10 seconds were left in the round, denying Vargas any chance of claiming the late knockout.
Vargas leaped onto the ropes thinking he had claimed a stoppage win but moments later the ring announcer declared Bradley the winner on the scorecards.
Vargas said: “All I needed was one more shot. Those seven seconds cost me the fight.”
Bradley said: “I got hit by a hard shot. I knew where I was at all times. The ref thought that he heard the bell. Hey, we can do it again.”
With the win, Bradley claimed the interim WBO welterweight title. Floyd Mayweather is the current WBO titleholder but looks likely to vacate the belt he won by outpointing Manny Pacquiao last month.