Brian Castano was looking for a breakout performance in his secondary junior middleweight title defense, and former longtime titleholder Erislandy Lara was seeking to rebound from a razor-close loss in the 2018 fight of the year.
Both accomplished their goal to some degree Saturday night, as their highly competitive and exciting fight was ruled a split draw before an announced crowd of 7,329 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Judge Kevin Morgan scored the fight 115-113 for Castano, John McKaie had it 115-113 for Lara, and Julie Lederman ruled the fight 114-114, resulting in immediate discussion of a rematch.
ESPN scored the fight 115-113 for Castano, who was a bit busier and landed more and harder punches.
Castano got the draw with a strong late-fight kick. He won the final four rounds on Morgan's card to edge ahead of Lara, and he won the final three rounds on Lederman's card to get a draw from her. McKaie also gave Castano the last three rounds, but Castano came up just short on his scorecard.
With the fight so close and competitive, both men believed they deserved the victory.
"It was a good fight, a good clash of styles," Castano, who retained his 154-pound title for the second time, said through a translator. "I know I won the fight. I feel I was robbed. He's an elusive boxer. I knew that. I prepared for that. I think it was a good fight, but I won. I know I won. I landed more punches."
Said Lara, also speaking through a translator: "It was a great fight, but I saw myself winning eight rounds tonight. My punches were much more effective. He did have pressure, but I was dominating the pressure. I was definitely expecting that pressure because he waited a long time for this fight. Again, I demonstrated I'm not old. I'm still fine-tuned."
According to CompuBox, Castano landed 195 of 863 punches (23 percent); Lara connected with 130 of a career-high 825 punches thrown (16 percent). Lara had never thrown more than the 609 he unleashed against Delvin Rodriguez in a decision win in a 2015 title defense.
The fight was by far the most significant of Castano's career, and while he may not have gotten his hand raised in victory, he competed straight up with Lara, who has long been one of the best in the division.
Lara (25-3-3, 14 KOs) had hoped to use the fight with Castano to rebound from a split-decision loss to Jarrett Hurd in their epic world title unification fight last April in which Hurd pulled out the win with a 12th-round knockdown. Lara, usually a master technician, still boxes extremely well, but at 35 he doesn't have the legs he once did, so Castano was able to eventually get to him, as Hurd did, with relentless pressure.
Lara, a Cuban defector living in Houston, controlled the distance and used his jab and movement well early on as he prevented Castano (15-0-1, 11 KOs), 29, of Argentina, from getting off combinations. But by the third round, the aggressive Castano's pressure began to have an impact. He was able to land more punches, especially to the body, and he continually shoved Lara off of him when he tried to tie him up.
Castano was able to put punches together and raised swelling around Lara's right eye in the fourth round. By the sixth round, it appeared as though the younger, fresher Castano was about to take over the fight as he forced Lara, a southpaw, to the ropes and unloaded short punches, many of which got through Lara's guard.
But Lara, a vastly experienced fighter, still had a few tricks in his bag. He had a strong eighth round when he turned aggressor and forced Castano back with a series of straight left hands -- his best weapon -- to the head.
So many rounds were close that both fighters clearly believed the fight was up for grabs down the stretch. But it was Castano who seemed to have a little more left in the final rounds. He had a very good 11th round as he ripped Lara with left hands to the body, a punch he had success with earlier in the fight but then abandoned before finding it again.
The 12th round featured constant back-and-forth, toe-to-toe action, and when referee Ricky Gonzalez separated them at the final bell, they both threw their hands up in victory. Then the fight was ruled a draw, and both fighters said they were open to a rematch.
"If he wants the rematch, I'll give him the rematch," Castano said. "I waited for him. Anyway, I can wait for him again if he wants the rematch. I would [give] him the rematch if he wants. I can also go ahead and fight any other champion that wants to fight me. I'm ready for whoever they put in front of me. Hurd or anyone else."
Added Lara: "If we have to fight him again I'll fight him. Hurd or Castano. Anybody. I'll have the rematch with both."