Miami - Cuban boxer Rances Barthelemy overcame a controversial knockdown to retain his IBF world lightweight title with a split-decision victory over former champ Mickey Bey on Friday.
The 29-year-old Barthelemy improved to 25-0 in his first defense of the title he won in December when he defeated Denis Shafikov.
Barthelemy fell to the canvas late in the second round in what the referee ruled was a knockdown for Bey. But television replays showed that Bey headbutted Barthelemy and then tried to sell the move by raising both his arms in the air as if he landed a solid punch.
"Once I got dropped, I knew I had to put the pressure on him and that is exactly what I did," Barthelemy said.
Barthelemy bounced back from the knockdown to win handily 117-110 on two of the judges' scorecards and record the first split decision victory of his career.
The other judge scored it 116-111 in favor of Bey, who fights as a member of Floyd Mayweather's Money Team.
The victory sets the stage for Barthelemy to attract bigger purses and top level opponents going forward. He is considered one of the best lightweight boxers in the world along with Terry Flanagan, Anthony Crolla, and Jorge Linares.
Former title holder Bey lost the crown when he refused to defend it against the mandatory challenger and had it taken away.
Bey's career has also marred by missteps, including February 2013 when he tested positive for testosterone.