NEW YORK -- Unified junior welterweight titlist Danny Garcia and Zab Judah did a lot of talking in the bad blood-fueled build-up to their fight, and then they did a whole lot more talking with their fists in a tremendous battle Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Garcia, thanks to a big early lead and an eighth-round knockdown, survived Judah's onslaught over the final three rounds to win a unanimous decision and retain his 140-pound titles before a raucous crowd of 13,048.
The judges had it 116-111, 115-112 and 114-112 for Garcia, who was making his third title defense. ESPN.com also had it for Garcia, 116-110.
"It was a helluva fight," Garcia said. "I had to beat the Brooklyn guy in his hometown. I knew he had a lot of pride behind him and he was never going to give up. He's a crafty veteran with a lot of power and the strongest guy I fought."
The 35-year-old Judah, who has folded in previous big fights, hung in there all the way in an impressive display of heart before making a late rally -- he won the final three rounds on all three scorecards -- against Garcia, who is 10 years his junior.
When the fight was originally announced in December -- and scheduled to take place on Feb. 9 -- the kickoff news conference degenerated into a near-brawl when Judah took exception to harsh comments from Angel Garcia, Danny's outspoken father and trainer, and confronted him.
Then the fight was postponed until Saturday night because Garcia suffered a rib injury in sparring two weeks beforehand. That led to accusations from Judah that Garcia was faking the injury, and more harsh words followed between the camps.
It culminated this week in Judah crashing a Garcia meet-and-greet for fans, in which the camps wound up spilling into the parking lot.
It was so bad that Golden Boy Promotions wouldn't allow the fighters to appear together at Thursday's final news conference or face off at Friday's weigh-in.
And on fight night there was extra security in the ring during the introductions, with the guards splitting the ring in half to keep the fighters away from each other, just as was famously done when Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson squared off for the heavyweight championship in 2002.
It all led to a vicious battle, especially during the second half of the fight. But when the bloody slugfest was over, the bad blood had disappeared, replaced instead by immense respect between Garcia and Judah.
"Regarding the bad blood: It's gone. It's a respect," Garcia said. "As you can see, it's a lot of bad blood. I've got cuts, he has cuts. We came here and gave the people of Brooklyn a nice show."
Said Judah: "It's boxing, things happen. You win some, you lose some. Danny is a young, tough fighter. I was on my A-game tonight. I worked hard. I had a great training camp and we gave it our best shot."
Garcia (26-0, 16 KOs), who earned $1.25 million, opened strong. He was making Judah (42-8, 29 KOs), who made $300,000, wince with body shots. And in the fifth round, with a commanding lead, he badly hurt Judah with a right hand late in the round. Judah was wobbly and trying to hold.
It looked as though Garcia would get rid of Judah in the sixth. He sent Judah reeling with a right hand and continued to pound away with so many clean shots that the round easily could have been scored 10-8 even though there was no knockdown. In fact, one judge did score it 10-8.
What had been a crowd chanting for Brooklyn's Judah suddenly brought Garcia's Philadelphia fans alive, as they began chanting "Danny! Danny! Danny!" Judah was just hanging on to Garcia until referee Steve Smoger had to break them. But Garcia kept landing right hands and once again turned Judah's legs to jelly, as he nearly went down. Judah did his best to stay away from Garcia for the rest of the round.
Garcia finally dropped Judah in the eighth, sending him to his rear end with a perfect straight right hand down the middle. Judah got up from the knockdown, but when he rose, under his right eye was a bloody cut.
Judah rallied in the 10th round, igniting his fans when he clearly hurt Garcia with a left hand. But although Garcia was shaken up, he was in top condition and weathered the storm.
Judah, bidding to become the first four-time junior welterweight titleholder, was having more success in the 11th round, but Smoger called time to have Judah's loose shoelaces tied. It didn't deter Judah or help Garcia, though. Judah landed a tremendous right hand to Garcia's head to shake him up.
"He hit me in the 11th with a left hand that spun me around," Garcia said. "It shook me up a little bit. I am a true champion and I had to fight through a storm tonight, and I proved that I could.
"I knew he had a lot of power with the left, but I was able to stand my ground and counter it.
"My game plan was to try to use the jab, but he was stepping around. He was crafty and he took my jab away, so I had to do what I had to do."
The fighters clashed heads hard in the 12th round, blood staining both of their faces. With the crowd on its feet, Garcia and Judah closed the fight in a toe-to-toe battle that would have made Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward proud.
But Garcia, despite losing steam in the last quarter of the fight, had done enough to win the decision even though Judah fought well enough to keep his name in the mix for another significant fight in the talent-loaded 140-pound weight class.
"I thought I did good, but I thought the scores were closer than they actually were," Judah said.
"You're going to see me fight again. Why would I quit?"
If Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer has his way, Garcia will meet the winner of the May 18 nontitle bout between titleholder Lamont Peterson and interim titlist Lucas Matthysse -- they will fight at 141 pounds -- in a September unification bout.
That's a fight Garcia would like to have -- as would most boxing fans.
"Yeah, I'd like the winner of that fight," Garcia said. "All I do is train and get ready for the fight, and whoever they tell me to fight, I fight."
He and Judah sure fought. As Judah, standing bloody in the ring afterward, said, "Welcome to world championship boxing at its best."
That's just what we got.