Junior bantamweight contender Juan Francisco Estrada badly wanted a knockout victory Saturday night, but he had to settle for a unanimous decision in his scheduled 12-round bout with Felipe Orucuta at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
The judges scored it 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111 for Estrada.
Orucuta (36-5, 30KOs) proved a much tougher opponent than expected. But Estrada (37-4, 25 KOs), after fading in the middle rounds, rallied down the stretch to win decisively, if not spectacularly.
"When two Mexicans are in the ring, you're going to get a great fight," Estrada said.
Estrada, 28, of Sonora, hopes the victory will earn him a rematch with junior bantamweight titleholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who beat Estrada by majority decision in February in an excellent fight.
Obviously going for a quick win, Estrada abandoned his usual economical style over the first three rounds, winging wild punches with bad intention. Many missed, but he connected with enough to take all three rounds.
Orucuta, 32, also of Sonora, began to work his way back into the fight in the fourth, landing his share of punches, but it wasn't quite enough to take the round.
In the fifth, Estrada sent his adversary reeling backward with a hard right to the head near the end of the round. At that point, it seemed Estrada was on his way to an easy win; but that changed in the sixth, when Orucuta landed a hard left hook to the body, forcing Estrada into the ropes.
The underdog unleashed a two-handed flurry, and most of the punches landed cleanly, before Estrada extricated himself from the ropes. Suddenly, Estrada didn't look like a sure shot.
The seventh was another good round for Orucuta when he got the better of several brutal exchanges in an action-packed round. The crowd that had been booing the bout earlier jumped to its feet, as the two fighters stood toe to toe.
Urged by his corner to keep pressing, Estrada gradually took over again. A cracking right to the head rocked Orucuta in the eighth, but he kept his feet under him and fought back.
Estrada finally showed the expertise that he is known for, sweeping the remaining rounds. He almost got the knockout he wanted in the 12th, when he chased Orucuta around the ring, landing flush punches to the head.
However, the final bell interrupted Estrada's onslaught with his extremely durable opponent still on his feet.
Nietes keeps unbeaten streak alive with draw
In the co-feature, Donnie Nietes, a three-division titleholder who had not lost a fight since 2004, was held to an unpopular 12-round draw by Aston Palicte.
Nietes, 36, had relinquished the flyweight title he held in order to move up to the junior bantamweight division, which might have been a mistake. Palicte (24-2-1, 20 KOs) had all the physical advantages: He was taller and stronger, had a longer reach and was nine years younger.
Nietes (41-1-5, 23 KOs) had trouble with Palicte's size from the start but used his outstanding boxing skills to move in and out, landing enough punches, especially right hands, to gain a slight advantage over the first half of the bout.
By the seventh round, however, Palicte was outworking his fellow Filipino. Nietes seemed to be tiring, which allowed Palicte to make good use of his reach advantage to land punches from the outside.
Nietes had an encouraging comeback round in the ninth, when he connected with a wicked left hook to the head. The 11th was close, but Nietes staged a grandstand finish in the final round, landing numerous right hands to edge the bout 115-114 on ESPN.com's scorecards.
The official scorecards were split. The judges scored it 118-110 for Nietes, 116-112 for Palicte and 114-114.
Ioka impressive In U.S. debut
Three-division former titleholder Kazuto Ioka returned from an 18-month retirement to win a bristling unanimous decision over McWilliams Arroyo in another 10-round junior bantamweight bout.
Although scores of 99-90, 97-92 and 97-92 were an accurate reflection of the fight, Arroyo, 32, made Ioka work hard to win his first bout outside of Japan.
Ioka, 29, floored Arroyo (17-4, 14 KOs) with a beautiful right hand to the jaw in the third round, but the bell rang soon after Arroyo got back to his feet.
Ioka (23-1, 13 KOs) demonstrated the outstanding boxing skills that have made him one of Japan's premier boxers. Throughout the fight, he attacked the body with both hands and set up his power punches with an unerring left jab.
Arroyo, 32, of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, didn't win many rounds but was always competitive, landing jolting lefts on many occasions.
Ioka appeared to be very tired in the 10th and held frequently. Nonetheless, Ioka landed enough punches to win the round, and he appears to have a bright future in the 115-pound weight class.