Vic Saludar is back in the title picture.

The squat Filipino is now a two-time titlist after barely outlasting unbeaten countryman Robert Paradero in a split decision to win a secondary WBA strawweight belt Saturday in Binan City, Philippines.

Judge Alfie Jocosol had Paradero winning 118-110, overruled by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 turned in by Mohammad Aquil Tamano and Danrex Tapdasan, respectively.

The bout came six months after the bout was originally due to take place last September. The ongoing coronavirus ruined those plans, leaving both boxers out the ring for more than a year. Saludar hadn’t fought since a 6th round knockout of sub .500 opponent Mike Kinaadman in Dec. 2019, his first fight after losing to Wilfredo ‘Bimbito’ Mendez just four months prior. Paradero had been out even longer, his last fight coming in April 2019, where he scored a 1st round knockout of Jonathan Almacen.

Whether or not ring rust was a factor, both boxers struggled with timing in the early rounds. Paradero offered an undisciplined mode of attack in attempting to force an aggressive pace. Saludar was cautious, if not a bit tentative although his patience proved wise as Paradero expended considerable energy winding up on power shots which badly missed the mark.

It didn’t quite take, as Paradero was a bit undisciplined in his attack. Saludar wisely played defense while effectively counterpunching after easily dodging his opponent’s wide punches. Paradero managed to obtain a cut over his right eye after a clash of heads in round two, although the wound was never a factor.

Saludar picked up the pace in round three, working Paradero’s body. Cleaner punching by the now two-time titlist proved to be the difference in most exchanges, landing straight rights through Paradero’s loose guard.

Paradero turned the tide in the second half as Saludar’s motor seemed to slow down. The undefeated 24-year old from Valencia City figured out a way to channel his aggression, as he tightened up his combinations and offering lateral movement to disallow Saludar the opportunity to respond.

Still, the clock was ticking on his chances to turn things around as Saludar was a build up a significant early lead which ultimately proved insurmountable. Paradero sought to go for broke in the 12th and final round, believing he hit a home run in the form of a hard right hand which caught Saludar clean. It wasn’t enough to end the fight or even produce the bout’s lone knockdown, however. Saludar composed himself and outworked Paradero in the closing seconds to preserve the win.

The version of the title became available after unbeaten long-reigning titlist Knockout CP Freshmart (birth name Thammanoon Niyomtrong) was elevated to WBA “Super” strawweight champion last March. The ongoing pandemic left the secondary version vacant until the WBA could piece together a fight to fill the void, with this bout taking at least two tries before finally making its way to the ring.

Saludar improves to 21-4 (11KOs), including 3-1 in sanctioned title fights (secondary or otherwise). Paradero falls to 18-1 (12KOs) with the first loss of his career.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox