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LOS ANGELES -- Antonio DeMarco, trailing wide on all three scorecards, came roaring back to stop a bloody and fading Jorge Linares for a dramatic 11th-round knockout to win a vacant lightweight belt on Saturday night at the Staples Center.
The fight was the final bout on the undercard of the show headlined by Bernard Hopkins' light heavyweight title defense against Chad Dawson, and the final few rounds had the crowd excited as DeMarco rallied for the exciting finish.
|Antonio DeMarco was behind on the scorecards when he opened a cut on Jorge Linares' nose and turned around the fight in an epic October 2011 win.|
"[Trainer Romulo Quiarte] told me in the 11th round to do it for my daughter and for everything I have been through in my life," DeMarco said. "I want to thank Jorge for the fight. He is a great champion, but this is a dream come true."
They were fighting for the belt recently vacated by Humberto Soto, who is DeMarco's cousin. Since DeMarco was Soto's mandatory challenger, he waited for his cousin to vacate because the family members had no intention of fighting each other.
But Mexico's DeMarco (26-2-1, 19 KOs) sure fought hard against Linares (31-2, 20 KOs), who was leading 99-91 and 98-92 (twice) on the scorecards before referee Raul Caiz Sr. stepped in to stop it at 2 minutes, 32 seconds of the 11th round, with Linares a bloody mess and taking punishment on the ropes.
Linares was the clear favorite to win his third vacant title and was winning easily through the first half of the fight.
DeMarco, 25, had been shut down until the sixth round, landing a flurry of punches and opening a bad cut on the bridge of Linares' nose. It bled heavily for the rest of the fight. In the eighth round, DeMarco opened a cut over Linares' right eye, which also bled badly.
Despite the blood, Linares' hands were much faster and his punch output much greater. But he was beginning to fade and DeMarco still looked fresh when he pounded him out in the 11th, landing several left hands that really hurt Linares and sent the blood flying at ringside.
"It was a head-butt that broke my nose," Linares said. "The blood really bothered me and I couldn't see. It was a big factor in the fight. I did the best that I could. I think I was dominating the fight with my speed and technique, but I couldn't see. I want the rematch."
Linares, 26, a native of Venezuela who is based in Japan, was working with trainer Freddie Roach for the first time, so he relocated to Los Angeles to train with him.
DeMarco had one previous title opportunity in February 2010, but was hammered and stopped in the ninth round by the late Edwin Valero.
• Junior welterweight Danny Garcia (22-0, 14 KOs) scored the biggest victory of his career, a split decision against former titleholder Kendall Holt (27-5, 15 KOs) in a title eliminator that moved him a step closer to a title opportunity in two alphabet organizations.
Although judge Wayne Hedgepeth somehow scored it 115-113 for Holt, the two others judges had it for Garcia, 117-111. ESPN.com had it 118-110 for Garcia.
Garcia, a 23-year-old former standout amateur from Philadelphia who has been brought along since his pro debut by Golden Boy Promotions, slowly beat up Holt, although the fight was not action-packed.
It did pick up in the sixth round when they traded several hard shots in the final seconds, Garcia rocking Holt with a left hook and Holt answering with a right.
Both of the fighters' left eyes were swelling by the seventh round, although Holt's swelling was far worse. In the eight round, after an accidental head-butt, Garcia nailed Holt with a left and a right as Holt was trying to touch gloves with him.
Holt's eye was nearly closed in the 11th round, during which Garcia twice badly hurt him with right hands.
"I feel phenomenal. It's been a long journey," Garcia said. "I finally got my shot on HBO [PPV] and I am really happy. I really think I am the best fighter he's ever fought and I proved my critics wrong. My game plan was to stay and box and not trade, and to keep my composure. He hit me with a few good punches, but that's what I trained for and I got the job done."
Even Holt, 30, of Peterson, N.J., disagreed with Hedgepeth's scorecard.
"He outhustled me," Holt said. "I was looking for the knockout too much. I was looking for the knockout all night. It was a good fight. I gotta go back to the drawing board, but I am still going to fight."
• Welterweight Paulie Malignaggi (30-4, 6 KOs) survived a rocky moment in the first round and rolled to a lopsided 10-round decision against Orlando Lora (28-2-1, 19 KOs) in the opening bout of the HBO PPV telecast.
Malignaggi's jab was his dominant weapon. The former junior welterweight titlist used it throughout the fight, although he doesn't carry much power. He had dominated most of the first round with it before Lora clipped him with a flush right hand. It badly hurt Malignaggi, sent him reeling and nearly knocked him down.
But Malignaggi recovered well and easily outboxed Lora, winning 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92. Lora was hampered by a cut over his left eye -- which was in a bad spot, although not bleeding heavily -- that happened in the third round.
Malignaggi won his third fight in a row since moving up to welterweight in the wake of a one-sided 11th-round TKO loss challenging 140-pound titlist Amir Khan in May 2010.
Cruiserweight Dewey Bozella (1-0), who made his pro debut at age 52 after serving 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, won a four-round decision against Larry Hopkins (0-4).
It was an inspirational story that had a happy ending for Bozella.
"I used to lie in my cell dreaming about this, and my dream came true," Bozella said. "This is one of the greatest moments of my life."
After years of battling for his freedom, and with the help of attorneys who took up his cause for free, Bozella was eventually released after witnesses against him eventually recanted their stories. He had boxed in prison -- and gotten a college degree -- and wanted just one pro fight. He got it, beating Hopkins 39-36, 38-37 and 38-36.
"This was my first and last fight," Bozella said. "It's a young man's game and anybody that is 52 years old should not be doing this. I'm working on the Dewey Bozella Foundation, which really means opening a gym in Beacon, N.Y., to get the kids off the street and give the kids something to do."
There was sporadic action and Bozella's legs looked a bit old, but he controlled most of the fight against Hopkins, 30, who had been knocked out in his three previous pro fights.
Hopkins landed a couple of good right hands in the first round and Bozella took them well. But then Bozella seemed to loosen up and take control.
In the fourth round, Bozella knocked Hopkins' mouthpiece out. After Hopkins spit his mouthpiece out two more times, referee Marcos Rosales took a point. The mouthpiece came out two more times before the fight ended, with Bozella landing several shots as Hopkins tried to cover up in the corner.
"Of course he was spitting it out on purpose," Bozella said. "He was tired."
Bozella's story was chronicled in July on ESPN's annual ESPY Awards show, where he was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Bozella's story generated as much publicity for the card as the main event.
In the end, he landed 48 of 208 punches (23 percent), while Hopkins was limited to landing 20 of 132 punches (15 percent).
• Junior middleweight Freddy Hernandez (30-2, 20 KOs) won a spirited unanimous decision against former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo (31-5, 16 KOs) in an upset. Hernandez, who was knocked out in the first round by Andre Berto in a welterweight title bout last November and was fighting for the first time since, won 96-93 on all three scorecards. In the most memorable fight of Collazo's career, he lost a controversial decision to Berto in a January 2009 title fight.
Most of the rounds were very close, except the eighth, when Hernandez cleanly dropped Collazo with a body shot. Collazo, in his first fight since signing with Golden Boy earlier this year, was clearly hurt and held on for the rest of the round.
• Welterweight Nick Casal (22-4-1, 17 KOs) scored two knockdowns in the third round and stopped Michael Anderson (11-1-1, 9 KOs) for an upset victory. Casal first dropped Anderson with a body shot, scored another knockdown moments later with a left hook to the head and then was teeing off on him until referee Marcos Rosales stepped in to stop it at 2 minutes, 51 seconds.
• In the first fight of the night, middleweight prospect Donyil Livingston (6-0, 3 KOs) outslugged prospect Kurtis Colvin (6-1, 5 KOs) for a unanimous decision in an action-packed fight. Livingston, of Palmdade, Calif., won 59-55, 58-56, 58-56 over his Austin, Texas rival.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.