(Reuters) - Undefeated welterweight Floyd Mayweather did all his hard work in the second half of the bout to overcome a stiff challenge from the fast-starting Marcos Maidana and unify two world titles in Las Vegas on Saturday.
At the end of 12 bruising rounds, American Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs) was awarded a majority decision victory, adding the hard-hitting Argentine's World Boxing Association belt to his World Boxing Council title.
For the first few rounds, however, it looked as if Mayweather was in serious danger of losing his vaunted unbeaten record against a fighter launching a blizzard of punches and trapping the American against the ropes at every turn.
Eventually Mayweather was able to assert control, nullifying Maidana's assault and launching vicious counter-attacks of his own, picking up points with his jab as his opponent sought to bulldoze his way in close.
Mayweather exuded confidence while awaiting the decision, with one judge ruling the fight a 114-114 draw while the other two scored the bout 117-111 and 116-112 in his favor, but acknowledged he had been in a hard battle.
"This was a tough, competitive fight, what the fans want to see," he told a post-fight interviewer in the ring.
"Normally I go out there, I box, I move. Finally, I was in a tough, competitive fight. He's a tough competitor and we gave the fans what they wanted to see."
Maidana (35-4, 31 KOs) began brightly, backing Mayweather to the ropes, landing clubbing punches from all angles and cutting the American above his right eye following an accidental clash of heads.
Supreme in defense, Mayweather was able to block many of his opponent's punches and launch short counters of his own but through four rounds, Maidana was out-working his more celebrated foe and ensuring the bout was fought on his own terms.
By round six, Mayweather was using his footwork to stay off the ropes and control the center of the ring, where he launched powerful hooks and right crosses to Maidana's body and head.
Even as Mayweather took over, Maidana kept coming, continuing to throw punches even as his workrate and accuracy declined.
When the final bell sounded, he and many of those in the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena felt he had done enough to get the decision.
"I definitely feel like I won this fight. Floyd did not fight like a man, like I expected him to," Maidana protested.
The victory sets Mayweather up for a possible contest against Britain's Amir Khan, who outpointed Luis Collazo on the undercard, although the American appeared willing to consider suggestions that Maidana had done enough to earn a second shot.
"If the fans want to see it again, we'll do it again," he added.
(Writing by Kieran Mulvaney in Washington, D.C.; Editing by John O'Brien)