NEW YORK -- Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas, both former welterweight world titleholders hoping to get back in position for another big opportunity, were looking to bounce back from poor performances the last time they faced a top opponent.
And they both fought well in an action-packed welterweight fight Saturday night -- at a contract weight of 144 pounds -- before 13,964 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But after 12 rounds, neither was happy to hear the fight was called a majority draw.
Judge Julie Lederman favored Broner 115-113, but she was overruled by Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, who both had it 114-114. ESPN also scored the fight 114-114.
"I beat him 7-5 (in rounds)," Broner said at ringside after he and Vargas embraced. "As you can see, I was letting my hands go more. I felt great. I ain't got a scratch on me. He's f----- up.
"I want to thank Jessie Vargas. He's a two-time world champion for a reason. He came to fight, but at the end of the day you all know I beat him. Point blank, period. I was connecting with right hands. I got warmed up in the early portion of the fight before taking over."
Vargas also thought he won.
"I saw myself winning, but if the judges said it was a draw you have to respect that," Vargas said. "I think it was a good fight. The fans seemed to like it. I hit the body, I worked inside. In the beginning I worked the distance. In the later rounds I let him come at me and was looking for the counter punch."
It was a tale of two fights -- one with Vargas taking it to Broner in the first half with his jab, body punching and relentless punching in general. But Broner came back strong in the second half of the fight, his first bout since making the tough decision to split from career-long trainer Mike Stafford following a clear decision loss to Mikey Garcia last July. Broner left Stafford to train with the very respected and vastly experienced Kevin Cunningham in West Palm Beach, Florida.
"My trainer was a big help tonight," Broner said. "I want to thank coach Cunningham as well as my original coach, Mike Stafford, for realizing I needed to do something different."
Broner has won world titles from junior lightweight to welterweight, but lost decisions when he faced his best opponents in Garcia, Shawn Porter in 2015 and Marcos Maidana in 2013. He fought better against Vargas than he did against Garcia, but still could not claim victory.
"He won," said Cunningham, known for leading Cory Spinks to the undisputed welterweight world title and Devon Alexander from his amateur days to world titles in two weight classes. "I would have liked for him to put his combinations together a little more. He could have won it going away or stopped him if he did that a little more. But even though he didn't I still think he won 7-5. I thought he gave away some early rounds and that cost him."
The last time Vargas, a former welterweight and junior welterweight world titlist, faced a big-name opponent was in November 2016, when he got knocked down and lost his welterweight world title to Manny Pacquiao. A 13-month layoff followed, after which he shook off the rust with a shutout 10-round decision against Aaron Herrera in December. But he stepped back up in class against Broner and put on a show, though he could not find victory.
"At the end of the day I can't argue because I was fighting on the inside of the ring, so I don't know what you saw from the outside," Vargas said. "I was landing clean blows. It was a good fight, but at the end of the day I can't dispute the decision. It must have been a close fight for the judges to have scored it the way they did. I felt that I won the fight and I was up two rounds. I'm relying on the judges to make the right decision."
Vargas was aggressive from the outset. He moved forward, landed body and head shots and kept throwing while Broner did very little other than shake his head and throw the occassional punch. Vargas is not known as much of a puncher, but he got through with several stiff punches in the second round.
But the action, and Broner's activity, really picked up in the third round as they both let their hands go. Vargas, in his second fight with Hall of Famer Mike McCallum as his trainer, took exception to a low blow that referee Charlie Fitch missed and came right back with a combination. They continued to fire away at each other in a back-and-forth fourth round in which Vargas got his punches off, but Broner was right there to counter.
Fitch finally warned Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs), 28, of Cincinnati, for another low blow in the sixth round and he gave Vargas time to collect himself.
In the eighth round, they went toe to toe over the final minute and Vargas (28-2-1, 10 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, got in a big right hand that landed clean. Broner, who earned $1 million to Vargas' $500,000, came back with a combination as the crowd cheered the action.
By the ninth round, Broner had swelling around his right eye and Vargas was marked up near his left eye. Broner came on very strong late in the round. He landed combinations and nailed Vargas with a tremendous right uppercut that rocked him, and then he followed up with more damaging blows.
Broner closed the 10th round with a punishing series of punches, including a right hand and a body shot and then a clean left hook. As for the 11th, it was another strong round for Broner, who opened a cut over Vargas' left eye.
"The cut bothered me, but we can't make any excuses," Vargas said. "We have to keep fighting."
Neither man showed huge urgency in a fight that seemed to be on the table in the 12th round but they finished strong to conclude a very crowd-pleasing fight.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Broner landed 194 of 507 punches (38 percent) and Vargas connected with 203 of 839 blows (24 percent). Vargas also outlanded Broner to the body, 54-38.
Both men said they are interested in a rematch. Saturday's fight provided the kind of action that would make another meeting a no-brainer.
"I gave the fans here in Brooklyn a show and I'd love to come back and do it again. We can run it back," Vargas said. "We went at it for 12 rounds. We can do it again. I'm ready to fight right now."
Count Broner in.
"I would love to fight Vargas again but let's go back to my town to do it. Let's do it," he said.