With two losses apiece against world-class opponents, junior welterweights Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz and Paulie "Magic Man" Malignaggi came into Saturday night's main event at Houston's Toyota Center on near-equal footing.
But Diaz was fighting before a hometown crowd and, as Malignaggi had feared, that might have been the difference.
In closing the curtain on an entertaining HBO Boxing After Dark tripleheader, Diaz (35-2, 17 KOs) pulled out a 12-round unanimous decision that put the three-time former lightweight champion back on track in pursuit of another world title.
Malignaggi (26-3, 5 KOs) reacted to the decision with an obscenity-laced post-fight interview. The Brooklyn fighter had protested the choice of two judges - California's Raul Caiz Sr. and Texas' Gale Van Hoy -- before the fight and he was even more convinced the deck was stacked against him afterward.
David Sutherland, from Oklahoma, scored it 116-112 for Diaz, while Caiz and Van Hoy had it 115-113 and 118-110.
"I knew I was going to have to deal with this," Malignaggi said. "I thought I outboxed him but I got robbed. This state never gives a fair shake to anybody fighting hometown fighters."
The last time Diaz (35-2, 17 KOs) fought at home, he suffered a knockout by Juan Manuel Marquez in February. His other loss was against veteran Nate Campbell, who took his lightweight title in March, 2008 on a split decision.
"Malignaggi's a great champion and deserves applause," Diaz said." I got a little too excited but I felt I won. I'm ready for whoever they bring against me. I would love to fight Marquez again in rematch."
Malignaggi, the former junior welterweight champion, previously lost to Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton. His corner did a great job of stopping the blood from a cut over his left eye in the first round. Diaz suffered cut over his left eye in the second round that got progressively worse.
In other action, former featherweight champion Robert Guerrero won the IBF junior lightweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision against South Africa's Malcolm Klassen; and Brooklyn middleweight Daniel Jacobs stayed unbeaten with a 10-round unanimous decision against Las Vegas' Ishe Smith.
HBO BAD - Aug. 22, 2009
Guerrero vs Klassen
Jacobs vs Smith