NEWARK, N.J. – Zab Judah had been in trouble before. He'd been knocked down, battered and cut, and he drew on all that experience once more Saturday night.
The former undisputed welterweight champion bounced back from a late knockdown and survived everything Lucas Matthysse could throw at him to earn a tough split decision in a fight decided by a single point on all three scorecards.
Judges Joseph Pasquale and Hilton Whitaker scored it 114-113 for Judah, while Waleska Roldan scored it 114-113 for Matthysse. The Associated Press also scored it 114-113 for Judah.
"He was a strong fighter," Judah said. "I kept my jab and that's what worked for me in the end. I'm not ever going down, ever."
Judah (40-6) seemed to be cruising until Matthysse (27-1) landed a combination that sent him to the canvas midway through the 10th round. Judah was staggered against the ropes again moments later but survived until the bell, and was in trouble in the 11th and 12th as well.
Matthysse just couldn't land the knockout blow he needed.
The crowd booed when the scores were read, even though Judah — a native of nearby Brooklyn — had the hometown edge over the fighter from Argentina. Matthysse was lifted onto the shoulders of his cornermen and raised his hands in victory, drawing a smattering of applause.
"Zab never hurt me, I fought my fight and pressured him the whole time, and I closed the championship rounds. What more do they want?" Matthysse said. "I clearly won. This must be because we're in his backyard."
The win was the fourth straight for Judah since his technical decision loss to Joshua Clottey in a welterweight title fight. It also was Judah's first fight at 140 pounds in nearly seven years, the junior welterweight division that he once dominated and hopes to again.
The win was an IBF eliminator, putting Judah into a fight against South Africa's Kaiser Mabuza for the belt vacated by Devon Alexander. But the more interesting matchup would be against the winner of Alexander's upcoming fight against titleholder Tim Bradley in January.
Also campaigning at 140 pounds are Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana, who fight in December.
"I have a lot of respect for him as a fighter," Judah said of Matthysse. "I knew it was going to be a tough fight going in, but I didn't expect him to be that strong."
On the undercard, former two-division titleholder Robert Guerrero picked apart rugged Vicente Escobedo to win a unanimous decision and vault back into the lightweight picture.
Guerrero was fighting for the second time since giving up his junior lightweight title earlier this year to care for his wife, Casey, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007. She has responded well to recent treatments, though, and cheered him on from ringside.
Guerrero (28-1-1) scored knockdowns in the third and sixth rounds — and could have had another in the fifth that was ruled a slip. Escobedo (22-3) fought through a cut high on his scalp from an accidental head butt in the first round, and picked up a couple of other nicks along the way that had his red-and-white trunks mostly red by the final round.
"I feel great," Guerrero said. "I feel bad for him that he got cut, because we're friends."
It wasn't all bad for Escobedo, though. He proposed to his girlfriend, Valerie Zarate, in the ring after the fight — and she said yes.
"It's a loss," Escobedo said, "but I held my head up high and proposed."