LOS ANGELES (AP) -Leo Santa Cruz defended his IBF bantamweight title with a unanimous decision over Alberto Guevara on Saturday.
Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KOs) won his third defense of his 118-pound (54-kilogram) belt in just over three months with steady aggression against Guevara (16-1), who performed well despite taking the fight on three weeks' notice.
Santa Cruz overcame an apparently injured nose by breathing through his mouth for most of the fight. He also fought through a right hand injury picked up in sparring, switching to a southpaw style while steadily breaking down Guevara with an impressive 989 punches in the 12-round bout.
Santa Cruz apologized for his performance despite connecting with nearly twice as many power shots (210-112) in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
"I've been fighting a lot lately, and I don't think I've been giving myself enough time to rest in between," said Santa Cruz, who just won his belt in June. "I'm sorry I didn't give that great of a show today. I felt a little different. ... Usually I throw more body shots, but I couldn't because he was running too much."
Judge Jonathan Davis scored it 116-112 for Santa Cruz, while Pat Russell had it 118-110 and Fritz Werner scored it 119-109.
Santa Cruz wore a Santa hat on his ring walk and a broad smile. Yet the Mexican-born champion promptly lost the first two rounds, with Guevara repeatedly beating him to the punch with combinations and superior movement.
Santa Cruz picked it up in the third, hurting Guevara with an early left hook before methodically going to work on Guevara with body shots and a superior work rate. Santa Cruz had the challenger in steady retreat for long periods of the remaining rounds, and Guevara's relatively meager power wasn't enough to back up the champion.
Santa Cruz controlled the second half of the fight, but failed to finish Guevara despite numerous big exchanges, including big shots early in the 12th round.