LAS VEGAS – After 12 bloody rounds with Angelino Cordova, Julio Cesar Martinez – the WBC flyweight titleholder – can continue on his quest to become the undisputed king.

Martinez, from Mexico City, improved to 21-3 (15 KOs) while Cordova, of Caracas, Venezuela, lost for the first time and falls to 18-1-1 (12 KOs). The titleholder retained on a majority decision, with two scorecards supporting him 114-112 (Max DeLuca and David Hudson) and a third card, by Tim Cheatham, unable to separate them at 113-113.

Martinez survived a pair of horrible cuts over both eyes), while Cordova recovered from two knockdowns in the third round.

The work was classy from the outset, but Cordova bashed Martinez with at least three clean left hooks in the final minute of the first round.

Cordova was landing flashy shots in the second, too, including an excellent straight right, a shot he often attempted to chase with a left hook.

But despite Cordova’s early success, he was dropped at the start of the third by a thudding jab that really registered, to the extent that when he made it back to his feet, he tried to hold.

That was in vain, because Cordova went down again, sent sprawling by another jab, and this time when he rose, he tried to get his legs back under him by using the ring.

Cordova was not looking as sturdy. The neurological bond between his brain and his legs was fading, and the Eddy Reynoso-trained Martinez was finding holes to guide hard shots through from either hand.

Cordova landed a good right as the fourth neared its conclusion, but the extra class and panache was in Martinez’s gloves.

After a thrilling exchange to open the fifth, Cordova was soon struggling again and shipping hard shots. While the Venezuelan landed occasional punches, there was a feeling that Martinez, who was switching stances, was biding his time.

The Mexican would beat his gloves together if he got caught, but through the sixth Martinez forced Cordova to endure another rocky spell, and tempers threatened to flare at the end of the frame when they were pulled apart by referee Chris Flores.

Both landed right hands as the seventh commenced, but Martinez dug down and moved forward from the one he took while Cordova staggered back, having taken the same shot.

Martinez bled badly from the right eye in the eighth, which clearly buoyed the challenger, Cordova, who fired a bolo punch into the pit of the Mexican’s stomach.

The champion dropped his hands and stepped to Cordova in round nine, and Martinez still bled freely from the wound by his eye. Things got worse in the 10th when Martinez suffered a gruesome cut across his left eyebrow following a clash of heads.

The action was paused in the 10th to give the doctor a chance to inspect the wound. Martinez was allowed to continue. He opened the 11th boxing with urgency and, fired up, he beckoned Cordova to swap punches with him.

The challenger now bled from the nose, and his jaw was also swelling badly.

The signs of battle showed on both faces, and Martinez was clearly frustrated by Cordova coming in headfirst. So was the pro-Mexican crowd, who had started chanting derogatory terms at the challenger, who got on his bike to stay out of trouble and hear the final bell.

Cordova goaded them all by celebrating, and his claims were supported by a team member, who raised him onto their shoulders to a crescendo of boos. But Martinez had retained and now potentially moves on to the unification fights he covets – although the cuts will take a while to heal.