CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Timothy Bradley got rocked in the final minute and survived a confusing finish to beat Jessie Vargas by unanimous decision Saturday night, claiming the interim WBO welterweight title.
Bradley (32-1-1) controlled most of his bout against the previously unbeaten Vargas, but the former two-division champion was hurt by a hard right that nearly knocked him down. The fight went on as Bradley recovered somewhat, but referee Pat Russell apparently stopped the fight 10 seconds early, thinking the 10-second warning was the bell to end the bout.
Bradley won 117-111, 116-112 and 115-112 on the scorecards, bouncing back from a winless 2014 — but not before a wild scare at the end.
Russell appeared to be deciding that the bout was over by stoppage when he stepped in, and Vargas' corner went into a wild celebration. Carl Moretti, the vice president of Bradley promoter Top Rank, went up to Russell immediately to find out what happened, and Russell said he thought the 10-second warning was the bell to end the fight.
The veteran referee was booed by the StubHub Center fans. Bradley acknowledged he was hurt by the overhand right, but said he would have survived the final 10 seconds.
The bout was Bradley's first fight at the famed outdoor ring south of Los Angeles since his 2013 brawl with Ruslan Provodnikov in which he overcame a concussion from the first round and survived a knockdown in the closing seconds to win a unanimous decision.
"I don't have to defend anything," Bradley said. "He landed a great shot, he hurt me, but I would have finished. Come on, I survived Provodnikov."
Vargas (26-1) said he could have won the fight if he had those 10 seconds. During Bradley's in-ring interview, Vargas demanded a rematch.
Vargas, the WBA light welterweight champion, knew he was stepping up in weight and class against Bradley, one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters with victories over Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. But Vargas struggled against Bradley's furious pace at the start, constantly attacking with multiple combinations and making him pay with counters.
Vargas tried to keep up but was sorely behind in landing punches. At the end of the first and fourth, Bradley staggered Vargas. By the fifth, Bradley drew blood from Vargas' nose.
The fight was for the WBO belt that Floyd Mayweather said he would vacate after beating Pacquiao in May. But Mayweather has balked at relinquishing the belt, and the WBO has demanded Mayweather declare his intentions by July 3.
If he relinquishes, then Bradley would go from interim champion to world champion.
It was the fifth time Bradley has won a championship belt. He won the WBO welterweight title twice, the WBC light welterweight belt twice and the WBO 140-pound belt once.
Bradley and his wife, Monica, who also is his manager, recently had their fifth child, and Bradley said he wants each kid to have his or her own championship belt in their Christmas photo.