Hermann Ngoudjo was supposed to be nothing more than a boxing tuneup for Jose Luis Castillo. He nearly ended up being a lot more on Saturday.
Castillo barely escaped with a split decision win over his far less experienced opponent, winning by the slimmest of margins to keep his hopes alive for a possible June fight against Ricky Hatton.
Castillo used a relentless attack to the body to win 115-113 on two scorecards, enough to offset the 115-113 margin given Ngoudjo by the third judge. The Associated Press had the fight even, 114-114. The fight was on the undercard of the Hatton-Juan Urango 63-kilogram (140-pound) title fight.
The decision was widely booed by the crowd at the Paris hotel-casino, which watched as Ngoudjo acquitted himself well in only his 16th professional fight against a fighter who was in his 63rd pro fight.
Ngoudjo (15-1) stood on the ringside corner ropes after the decision was announced and raised his arms in victory. "I thought I outworked him on the outside and I roughed him up on the inside," Ngoudjo said. "I thought I won this fight by four rounds."
Ngoudjo, who fought for Cameroon in the 2000 Olympics but now lives in Montreal, was fighting for only the second time outside of Canada. He was unbeaten coming into the fight, but had never fought a fighter of the caliber of Castillo.
Castillo (55-7-1), meanwhile, hadn't fought in nearly a year after failing to make weight for his lightweight title fight against Diego Corrales in June. The effects of the layoff were evident in the fight.
"I did the best I could," Castillo said. "I've been away from the ring for a long time. It wasn't one of my greatest performances."
Castillo won the fight by going to the body, especially with a left hook that he continually pounded into the ribs of Ngoudjo. But Ngoudjo had his moments as well, rocking Castillo with a left in the seventh round and fighting well from the outside. Ringside punching stats showed Castillo landing 245 of 682 punches to 208 of 783 for Ngoudjo.