The fighters accidentally clashed heads twice in earlier rounds, according to the Associated Press, causing a cut over Hernandez’s right eye that widened as the fight progressed.
In the sixth round, Hernandez’s trainer, Ulli Wegner, asked for an examination by referee Mickey Vann, who then stopped the bout on the advice of ringside doctor Walter Wagner.
“The cuts weren’t dangerous, but the blood could have run into the eyes and affected his vision. I think the head clashes that the referee felt were accidental weren’t entirely accidental,” Wagner told The AP.
“You can have different opinions there. Hernandez was at a disadvantage from the cuts, so I gave the recommendation.”
Judges Pawel Kardyni and Dave Parris scored it for Hernandez 59-54 and 58-55, respectively, while Howard John Foster had it 57-56 for the 35-year-old Cunningham (24-3, 12 KOs).
“I was ready for 12 rounds. I led from the beginning,” said the 26-year-old Hernandez (25-1, 13 KOs), who dropped Cunningham late in the first round with a left cross behind the ear, according to AP.
Although he barely beat the 10-count to continue, Cunningham immediately called for a rematch, saying he was “set up” and that he was still the best cruiserweight in the world.
But ultimately it wasn’t punches that ended the bout.
“They were hard head clashes, and head clashes are always harder than punches. I’ll have to get stitches, but then I’ll treat myself to a cigar.”
Wegner saw the fight heading towards the same result, regardless.
“The referee counted too slowly after the knockdown. That would have been it already,” he said. “Pablo was clearly in the lead. He’s a deserved world champion.”
Hernandez, who has now won 11 consecutive fights, last lost when he was knocked out in the third round by Wayne Braithwaite in March of 2008.
Hernandez won a clash of southpaws in February when he dropped Steve Herelius (21-2-1, 12 KOs) twice in the seventh and final round to end the fighter’s seven-bout winning streak.
Trained by Naazim Richardson, the same man who works with former undisputed middleweight champ and RING and WBC light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs), Cunningham was considered to be the world’s No. 1 cruiserweight.
The loss ended Cunningham’s winning streak at three, having last tasted defeat in December of 2008, when he lost the IBF cruiserweight title to Tomasz Adamek (44-2, 28 KOs) via split-decision.
Before falling to Adamek, Cunningham had won two straight: a majority decision over Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (45-2-1, 32 KOs) of Poland in May of 2007, and a 12th-round knockout of Marco Huck (33-1, 24 KOs), who are the current WBC and WBO titleholders, respectively.
By defeating Wlodarczyk, Cunningham dethroned him as IBF beltholder and avenged a split-decision loss from November of 2006.
Cunningham also already owns a split-decision victory over current WBA titlist Guillermo Jones (37-3-2, 29 KOs) from April of 2005.
In the main event, 26-year-old southpaw middleweight Gregorz Proksa improved to 26-0 with his 11th straight knockout and his 19th overall by stopping 31-year-old former IBF titleholder Sebastian Sylvester (34-5-1, 16 KOs) in the third round.
For Sylvester, of Greifswald, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, this was the second straight defeat. He was coming off of a split-decision loss to Daniel Geale (26-1, 15 KOs) of Australia that dethroned him as IBF beltholder in May.
Proksa-Sylvester was for the vacant European middleweight title.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com