NEW YORK -- Heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings pulled out a split decision against Mike Perez on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden to earn a world title shot.
Jennings and Perez put on a snoozer of a fight on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale middleweight world title fight, but Jennings will take the result -- one that he was able to pull out when Perez lost a point for hitting on the break in the 12th round.
"It doesn't matter as long as I get the win," Jennings said.
With the victory, he became the mandatory challenger for the winner of the bout between world titleholder Bermane Stiverne and current mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder, who are supposed to meet this fall. The winner of that fight will be obligated to face 29-year-old Jennings of Philadelphia next.
Two judges scored the fight for Jennings, 115-112 and 114-113, while one judge gave it to Perez, 114-113. ESPN.com also had it for Jennings, 114-113.
"I won the fight. I won the fight easily," Perez said. "I did what I wanted to do. The referee (Harvey Dock) stole the fight from me."
The whole Perez team was up in arms.
"Mike was terrific in the gym and we won this fight clearly by three rounds," trainer Adam Booth said. "The ref took it away from him."
"It's kind of unheard of to take a point away in the 12th round and have that decide the fight," said K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler, Perez's promoter.
Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs) and Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), 28, a Cuban defector living in Ireland, were initially scheduled to fight May 24 in Corpus Christi, Texas, but Perez suffered a left shoulder injury in a sparring session and the bout was called off with two weeks to go.
They fought at a solid pace early, but Perez, a southpaw, seemed to be getting the better of the exchanges as he landed solid right jab-straight left combinations while Jennings was ineffective trying to fight him on the outside.
There was sporadic action, such as in the third round when Jennings stunned Perez with a right and Perez responded by knocking him backward.
Jennings' biggest moment in the first half of the fight came just before the fifth round ended, when he caught Perez with a solid right uppercut that excited the pro-Jennings crowd.
But the fight grew more ragged as it went on and the pace slowed, especially Perez's. He looked like he was tiring by the seventh round as Jennings continued to work to his body and come on strong. He let his hands go on the inside late in the eighth round and caught Perez with an uppercut and a right hand.
Jennings landed a solid right uppercut late in the 10th round as he continued to be more active than the tiring Perez, who spent much of the later rounds looking to hold rather than punch.
Jennings came out fast in the 12th round, clearly looking to do damage, and he was winning the round when he got a bonus as Dock docked the point from Perez for hitting him with a left hand on the break, giving Jennings a 10-8 round.
"He wouldn't stand in there and trade with me," Jennings said. "I wanted him to stand in there and fight. I was expecting the inside pressure from Mike Perez and it didn't happen. It was a very technical fight."
According to CompuBox statistics, Jennings landed 149 of 513 punches (29 percent) and Perez connected on 116 of 571 (20 percent).
The fight was Perez's second since he outpointed Magomed Abdusalamov in a brutal slugfest in November at the Madison Square Garden Theater, putting Abdusalamov in a coma for a month with severe brain damage. Abdusalamov survived, but he is severely incapacitated and in a rehabilitation center, unable to walk or talk with little chance for significant recovery.
Perez made a quick return to the ring in January and was off his game in a draw with Carlos Takam. Perez and his team later said he returned too quickly after the Abdusalamov bout, although there was no such discussion about that for this fight.
Afolabi destroys Caputo Smith
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi (21-3-4, 10 KOs) laid waste to Anthony Caputo Smith (15-4, 10 KOs), destroying him in three one-sided rounds of their scheduled 10-rounder.
Afolabi, 34, of England, was originally scheduled to face Pawel Kolodziej of Poland in a world title eliminator to earn a mandatory shot at titleholder Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Afolabi promoter K2 Promotions won the purse bid for the fight in April, but in early July Kolodziej pulled out of the bout, leaving Afolabi to face late replacement Caputo Smith in a much lower-profile fight.
It was a total mismatch. Afolabi had a huge second round as he battered Caputo Smith, reddened his face and cut him over the left eye. He repeatedly snapped Caputo Smith's head back with clean jabs, nailed him to the body and spent most of the round landing at will. Caputo Smith was tough, sopping it all up and throwing a few shots back that got the crowd excited, but he was taking a beating.
In the third round, Afolabi dropped him twice, first with an uppercut that sent him to a knee, and again just before the end of the round as Caputo Smith was stumbling. When the round ended, referee Steve Smoger waved off the fight in Caputo Smith's corner on advice of the ringside doctor.
Afolabi is shooting for a fourth shot at a world title. He challenged Marco Huck for his world title three times, coming up short each time and going 0-2-1.
Caputo Smith, 29, of Philadelphia, has lost four of his last six fights, including an eight-round decision to fringe contender B.J. Flores on June 27.
" Dusty Hernandez-Harrison (23-0, 12 KOs), a 20-year-old welterweight prospect from Washington, D.C., was much faster, much more elusive and much busier than Wilfredo Acuna (14-15, 11 KOs), 32, of Nicaragua, whom he easily outboxed to win a shutout eight-round decision in a monotonous fight and a complete mismatch.
All three judges scored the 80-72 for Hernandez-Harrison, who probably has had tougher sparring sessions than the fight against Acuna, who dropped to 1-8 in his last nine fights and 2-11 in his last 13, including a seventh-round knockout loss to newly crowned junior welterweight titlist Chris Algieri last September.
Hernandez-Harrison landed a lot of right hands, including a few of them in the fourth round that wobbled Acuna and knocked him back. He targeted Acuna with the right hand repeatedly through the fight but could not drop him.
" Junior welterweight prospect Julian Rodriguez (5-0, 3 KOs), a 19-year-old from Hasbrouk Heights, New Jersey, who turned pro last September, didn't even break a sweat in destroying Yankton Southern (4-6, 4 KOs), 39, of Springfield, Missouri, in a massive mismatch. Rodriguez needed just 43 seconds to knock him out for the count with a left hand to the body. Southern came into the fight having won three fights in a row but against very low-level opposition.