After 12 rounds it looked like Cuba's Joel Casamayor had won the first big fight of 2002, but when the three men at ringside had their scores announced they had voted narrowly in favour of Acelino Freitas at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Casamayor, 30, lost for the first time in 27 fights. Freitas, of Salvador, Brazil, improved his record to 31 fights without defeat and added the World Boxing Association super-featherweight title to the World Boxing Organisation championship that he entered the ring with.
Now Casamayor's promoters, America Presents, will lodge an official complaint with the Nevada State Athletic Commission regarding both the decision and the antics of the referee, Joe Cortez, who deducted two points from Casamayor during what was a surprisingly brutal encounter.
In round three, Cortez ruled that Casamayor had been dropped by a right, but it was clear from video replays that the Cuban had taken the punch on his own glove and had slipped as he swayed out of reach. In round six an innocuous tap after Cortez had shouted "break" by Casamayor led to another point being taken from his score.
"It was a disgrace because even with the points being deducted Joel was a clear winner," claimed Luis Decubas, like Casamayor a Cuban exile. Most people at ringside thought that Casamayor had won by three or four rounds.
The tale of the fight was simply Casamayor's slicker ringcraft and, after an initial onslaught by Freitas, who had previously stopped 29 of his 30 opponents, the Cuban was able to dominate large segments of the fight. It was not a classic, but then fights of this nature involving two unbeaten world champions seldom are.
The narrow scoreline of 114-112 from all three judges was fair according to Freitas, who quickly rejected Casamayor's offer to travel to Brazil for a re-match. He said: "Why should I fight him again when in my mind I was the clear winner?''
Freitas, 26, has another far more sensible reason for declining Casamayor's offer because it seems his performance on Saturday has finally persuaded the division's best fighter, Floyd Mayweather, to postpone his defection to the lightweight division.
Mayweather, who holds the World Boxing Council version of the super-featherweight title, was at ringside and is now determined to unify the weight class, agreeing to fight Freitas providing a deal can be made. Mayweather, who is regarded as one of modern boxing's top five fighters, would probably clear over $2m (£1.4m) and that would leave Freitas, who once lived on the streets of Brazil, in possession of close to $1m.
Cortez defended his decision to deduct the two points from Casamayor. He said: "The knock-down looked genuine to me and if you hit an opponent after the referee shouts 'break' it is illegal. Those are the rules of boxing.'' They are indeed the rules, but in modern boxing lawyers tend to move the rules and Casamayor and his management will hire the best to secure a re-match and stay in contention for a potential $1m fight against Mayweather.Reuse content