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."