Carlos Cuadras is right back in the title mix.

The former WBC junior bantamweight titlist claimed an interim version of the belt with a hard-fought, twelve-round split decision win over Pedro Guevara. The battle of prior beltholders from Mexico saw Cuadras score two knockdowns to earn the nod by scores of 116-110 and 115-111 to overrule a 115-111 card for Guevara to prevail at the Friday evening in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Cuadras is now the mandatory challenger to lineal and full WBC junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada (44-3, 28KOs), who has not fought since last December 3 and likely won’t return until 2024. His inactivity—coupled with the previously explored effort to unify versus WBA titlist Kazuto Ioka—prompted the WBC to permit an interim title fight which came at the tail end of its 61st annual convention.

Mexico City’s Cuadras scored the bout’s first knockdown midway through round two. The left hook-happy slugger found frequent success with the weapon before one landed flush on the chin of Mazatlan’s Guevara, who was sent to the canvas.

To his credit, Guevara immediately punched his way back into the fight. The veteran contender and former junior flyweight titlist fought on even terms with his countryman for the balance of the round and through the third. He surged ahead in round four through body shot combinations, which Cuadras absorbed but found himself outworked for the first time on the night.

Fatigue appeared to set in for Cuadras, whose activity rate slowed in round five. Guevara allowed Cuadras to come forward and time him with counter right hands over the top after previously absorbing an overhand right. A left hook later landed for Guevara as he pushed past Cuadras’ jab.  

Cuadras was credited with a second knockdown in round six. Guevara briefly lost control of the action and was clipped with a series of winging shots by Cuadras. Despite his best effort to remain upright, Guevara’s back left leg gave out from under him as he fell to the canvas. His best effort to sell as a slip did not take as he was issued his second eight-count on the night.

The sequence seemed to have provided a spark for Cuadras, who found his second wind and outworked his fellow Mexican title hopeful over the second half of the night.

Neither boxer left anything to chance in the 12th and final round as both fought as if the fight was very much in the balance. Guevera set the tone early with a hook and uppercut combination, both of which landed on Cuadras’ chin. Cuadras immediately responded with ripping body shots, before he moved back and controlled the distance and temp for the balance of the fight. It was more than enough to preserve the victory, despite Guevara winning on one card.

The valiant effort by Guevara ultimately ended with his record now at 40-4-1 (22KOs), all since his previous full title bid. A strong showing in a twelve-round, majority decision defeat to then-unbeaten WBC junior flyweight titlist Kenshiro Teraji in October 2017 was followed by ten straight victories, all at or above the junior bantamweight limit.

Guevara was previously in line to face Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez was supposed to come with the same stakes; The legendary former four-division champ from Nicaragua has instead remained idle since his loss to Estrada in their rubber match last December in Glendale, Arizona.

It paved the way for Cuadras to re-enter the title picture, and the 35-year-old made it count. He has now won three in a row since a title fight loss to Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez last February as he improved to 42-5-1 (28KOs).

The win puts Cuadras in line for a potential third fight versus Estrada, against whom he has suffered two defeats. He dropped a ten-round decision in their September 2017 non-title fight. Their October 2020 rematch was among the year’s best fights, but which saw Cuadras dropped twice after flooring Estrada early in an eventual eleventh-round knockout defeat in their WBC title fight.  

Cuadras previously held that same belt from a May 2014 technical decision win over Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Six successful defenses followed before a September 2016 points loss to Gonzalez in Inglewood, California.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox