George Groves closing in on world title shot after beating Eduard Gutknecht
George Groves moved closer to a fourth shot at a world title after earning a unanimous decision victory over Eduard Gutknecht at Wembley's SSE Arena.
The 28-year-old provided the latest demonstration he has rediscovered his finest form when securing his fourth win of 2016 via scores of 119-110, 119-109 and 119-109 on the three judges' scorecards.
Victory leaves him in contention to challenge for the vacant WBA super-middleweight title early next year. He has lost each of his previous three world-title fights but his latest performance suggested he has the momentum required to finally succeed.
As early as the opening bell, the 34-year-old Gutknecht - born in Kazakhstan but who fights out of Germany - sprinted to Groves and landed a right hand before receiving a counter.
For much of the opening rounds each maintained a high work-rate while being hittable, but Gutknecht's ability to close the distance restricted the power in Groves' punches.
Gutknecht is known for an amateur victory over the feared Gennady Golovkin without threatening such a level as a professional.
He took numerous big rights from Groves in the sixth, seventh and eighth rounds, displaying good resistance even if it suggested he was being worn down.
Already clearly behind on the scorecards, another intense assault in the ninth saw a significant cut open by his swollen left eye that further reduced his chances of going the distance.
Impressively, he instead succeeded in taking further punishment as the aggressive Groves continued to land with powerful combinations and counters, surviving to the final bell and inevitably dropping the decision.
The victory also means Groves has four wins from four since appointing Shane McGuigan as his new trainer after fighting under Paddy Fitzpatrick for the last time last year when losing to WBC champion Badou Jack.
Defeat by Jack had followed two further unconvincing performances after he had impressed despite losing twice to Carl Froch, but succeeding in finally winning a world title next year could prove exceptional timing.
Long-term rival and IBF champion James DeGale faces Jack in the unification fight in January that will establish the 168lb-division's leading fighter.
Should DeGale and Groves continue to win, a rematch six years after their first professional fight would become one of the biggest British match-ups that could be made in 2017.
There was earlier a surprise defeat for Northern Irish middleweight Conrad Cummings, who lost a split decision via scores of 96-94, 96-94 and 94-96 to Germany's Ronny Mittag.
The loss was the first of Cummings' career, and also the first ever as a professional trainer for McGuigan, whose reputation has grown since Groves and David Haye joined Carl Frampton among his stable of fighters.
Also on the undercard, 2012 Olympian Andrew Selby secured his seventh win from seven by stopping Jake Bornea of the Philippines in the seventh round.
After the fight, Gutknecht fell ill in his changing room and was taken out on a stretcher to hospital.