CARSON, CALIF.-The WBO title changed hands as Paul Williams jumped to an early lead and hung on as Antonio Margarito charged back in the later rounds, but it was too late to win the decision at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

“The plan was to start fast and put in the early rounds,” said Williams.

Before a sold out crowd of more than 7,000 people, Williams (33-0, 24 KOs) walked into the lion’s den of the mostly pro-Mexican crowd and used his long reach and constant punching to keep the marauding Margarito (34-5, 24 KOs) from powering through.

Williams, a South Carolina native who now fights out of Georgia, used his southpaw stance, combination punching and movement to keep Margarito from setting up the bombs. It was a wise tactic.

“We knew Margarito was a slow starter,” Williams said. “I didn’t think this fight was as close as two of the judges had it.”

One judge scored it 116-112 and the other two 115-113 all for Williams.

The long right jab of Williams did the job of keeping Margarito from walking inside unimpeded. But by the fifth round the punches began to come faster.

A left uppercut by Margarito that caught Williams on the chin snapped the Southern fighters head back for the biggest punch yet after six rounds.

The Tijuana fighter increased the tempo in the seventh round and scored heavily with his inside work to the body. Williams was forced to hold Margarito to stop the momentum.

Williams seemed to slow down in the eighth round probably because of the number of body shots. Williams’s punches were coming a little softer.

Three left hands by Williams in the ninth round bounced off Margarito’s head but he kept moving forward. A left hook to the body by the Mexican fighter hurt Williams but he rallied at the end of the round with some combinations.

A body attack by Margarito hurt Williams and opened him up for an attack to the head. An exchange of punches found Williams taking a stiff right hand that staggered him momentarily.

In the 11th round Margarito landed a right hand and began to attack Williams who searched for a place to evade the punches unsuccessfully. After an exchange of punches Williams emerged with a large cut over his left eye.

It was the 12th round that proved pivotal for the winner as Williams rediscovered his jab and movement to keep Margarito from landing the big blow. The Mexican fighter tried but couldn’t muster the energy to chase Williams. That proved to be the difference in keeping in keeping or losing the title. Had Margarito won the last round on two judges cards the fight would have been judged a majority draw.

“He threw more punches than I but I landed the harder punches,” said Margarito who was slated to unify the titles had he won this fight. “It was a robbery everybody knows I won this fight.”

According to Compubox Williams landed 288 to Margarito’s 181.

“I definitely got stunned,” said Williams. “Margarito is a tough dude.”

Other bouts

In a battle for the Inland area fans, Arreola proved he was more than familiar with Derek Berry (12-9-1, 5 KOs) and stopped the Rialto heavyweight with a bludgeoning five-punch combination for a first round knockout.

“I sparred with that guy before,” said Arreola (21-0, 19 KOs) who is quickly gaining a large fan base. “There’s a difference sparring with 18-ounce gloves and head gear and a real fight with 10-ounce gloves.”

Arreola wants to prove he belongs with the elite heavyweights.

“I’m ready to fight anybody they want me to fight,” Arreola said.

Bakersfield heavyweight Manuel Quezada (20-5, 13 KOs) captured every round according to the three judges in his six-round bout against Salt Lake City’s Gary Gomez (18-8-1, 7 KOs). But he didn’t win over the crowd with his slow pace and lack of aggression, The judges scored 60-54 for Quezada.

Former Olympian gold medal winner Andre Ward has made a few changes to his style and caught tough Francisco Diaz with a right hand for a sudden knockout at 2:59 of the third round of a super middleweight fight.

“That (punch) felt beautiful,” said Ward (13-0, 8 KOs). “It was like hitting a baseball on the meat of the bat.”

San Jose’s Ricardo Cortez (20-1-1, 14 KOs) fought every round hard and earned a unanimous decision over Indiana’s Jose Spearman (27-14-4) in a middleweight contest. There were no knockdowns in the six round bout. The scores were 59-55 twice and 58-56.