Marlon Starling was unhappy after his title defense Saturday night against Mark Breland, but he had to be a lot happier than Breland.
"I'm not happy. I think I beat him," Starling said at the end of the 12-round bout.However, while Starling didn't get the decision, he kept the World Boxing Association welterweight title because the verdict was a draw.
"In the first couple of rounds, I felt very stale," said Breland, the 2-1 favorite who was trying to regain the 147-pound title he lost when he was knocked out by Starling in the 11th round last Aug. 22 at Columbia, S.C.
"I couldn't put my punches together, but I got better and I thought I outpunched him in the last three rounds," Breland said.
Judges Dave Moretti of Las Vegas and Elias Quintana of Albuquerque, N.M., gave Breland three of the last four rounds while judge Jerry Roth of Las Vegas scored two of the last four for Breland with another even.
Roth, however, scored the fight 116-113 for Starling while Quintana saw it 114-114. Moretti favored Breland 115-114.
"I'm not the judge," a disappointed Breland said when asked about the decision.
The decision was booed by a crowd of about 6,500 at the Las Vegas Hilton's indoor arena. Many had begun booing even before the decision was announced, as the fight had more than a few dull moments.
In another title bout on the HBO TV doubleheader, Julio Cesar Chavez retained the WBA lightweight title by stopping Rodolfo Aguilar of Panama in the sixth round. It was Chavez's 57th victory in as many fights and his 48th knockout.
Starling was the aggressor throughout and the harder puncher, but Breland seemed to control the second half of the fight with left jabs that pounded Starling's face lumpy and left his left eye virtually closed.
Starling looked sharp in the first four rounds, hurting Breland with a left hook midway through the first round and hurting him with a left hook and a hard right to the head with a little over a minute left in the fourth round.
Starling kept moving forward as the fight drew on, but in many rounds he seemed reluctant to punch. In the eighth round, Starling spent a minute leaning against the ropes trying to sucker Breland into dropping his hands. But the challenger scored well with four or five punches to the body and head.
In the final three rounds, Breland finally started to throw his right hand more, but it was anything but the vaunted punch that had helped him score 73 knockouts as an amateur. The last three rounds were marked with some spirited exchanges.
"All you have to do is fight one round," Breland's trainer, Joey Farriello, told him before the 12th round. But while Breland appeared to have an edge in the final round, he couldn't grab back the title.
Breland, 24, of New York, who weighed 146 pounds, now has a 20-1-1 record with 13 knockouts.
The 29-year-old Starling, 1461/2, of Hartford, Conn., now is 44-4-1 with 26 knockouts.
Chavez looked like he was going to make short work of Aguilar, knocking him down with two rights to the head with seven seconds left in the first round. Chavez stayed in control until the end, but his taller, left-handed opponent fought well and at times made the champion look awkward.