LOS ANGELES -- With much of the Staples Center emptied out after the main event, it was time for Mark Anthony Barriga and Carlos Licona to get to work on their IBF strawweight title fight.
After twelve rounds, Licona (14-0, 2 knockouts) convinced two of the judges that he had done better than Barriga (9-1, 1 KO) by the scores of 115-113, enough to earn a split decision and the vacant title. The third judge had it 115-113 for Barriga.
The fight was bumped until after the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury main event.
"He could have done more," said Sean Gibbons, matchmaker of MP Promotions. Gibbons believed Barriga deserved the decision.
After a feel-out first round, Barriga got in gear in the second, landing counterpunches with his check right hook on Licona, 23, of Westminster, California.
Licona's height and ability to read Barriga's shoulder roll defense began to pay off in the middle rounds, as he adjusted his right hand to go around the guard to land on Barriga, 25.
Licona, who was two inches taller at 5-foot-4 was able to pull away and make Barriga reach with his right hook, which often fell short.
Barriga was cut on his left cheek by an accidental headbutt, though the wound never played a factor in the fight.
By the eighth, Barriga had gotten his rhythm back, drawing Licona into becoming the aggressor while dancing off to the side after landing his one-two combinations.
Barriga landed his best punch of the fight in the ninth, a clean left cross to the chin which Licona took well, due mostly to neither 105-pound fighter having anything resembling serious punching power.
Licona got back into gear in the tenth round, using his feints to pressure Barriga and open up punches from the outside. After a close eleventh, Barriga closed the show with his most dominant round, getting in and out and landing his straight left with regularity.
Licona, the cousin of former fringe featherweight contender Marcos Licona, had been boxing since he was five years old. His sister, Lina Licona, is a pro boxer with a 2-0 (1 KO) record.
Barriga says that he believes he won the fight but respects the decision of the judges.
"I hit a lot of clear punches," said Barriga.
"I'm here to fight. If the decision is that I lost, no problem. It's okay. There's (still) a lot of fights (for me)," said Barriga.