Lewis Crocker made a successful first defence of his WBO European welterweight title in Bolton last night, but was made to work for it by an extremely game challenger in Deniz Ilbay.
The Belfast man looked well on course for an early night when his body attack had Ilbay on the floor in the third, but then had to come through a mini crisis in the fourth when he left himself open to a right that had him on unsteady legs towards the end of the round.
This was a breathtaking battle that was fought at a high pace and was testament to both men's fitness and desire, but the better boxing and cleaner work came from the champion who improves his record to 13-0 with a unanimous points win (99-90, 97-92, 97-93).
"He's the hardest head I've ever hit," said Crocker after.
"That was a great 10 rounds and a great learning experience that will give me confidence going into my next fight. That's a quality opponent on my record, so that is confidence and I'm ready for the next one. He was a quality fighter and brought the best out of me."
Crocker enjoyed a size advantage and spent the early moments finding his range with the jab, but Ilbay set out his stall and was busy from the off, throwing in bunches.
Crocker was targeting the body and those shots began to take their toll in the third as a thunderous left to the midriff had the challenger down. Bravely, he rose and just about saw out the round.
Ilbay was now mindful of the body shots as his output dropped early in the fourth, but just as it seemed Crocker was in total command, a big right from the German landed flush on Crocker's jaw and had him on unsteady legs as the bell sounded to end the fourth. He grew in confidence from this in the fifth, but momentum would again swing when a crunching body shot again had Ilbay hurt and on the retreat.
As the fight entered the second half, the high pace continued with both intent on imposing themselves but it was Crocker who took the sixth as he again had Ilbay hurt but the durability of the challenger saw him regroup and fire back.
The better boxing was undoubtedly coming from the Sandy Row man but Ilbay was making him work for everything although the challenger was a little fortunate not to receive a count early in the eighth when his gloves grazed the canvas after it appeared a left connected to the temple, but it was ruled a slip.
What little window of opportunity Ilbay may have had was now gone as Crocker finished strong in the 10th, throwing spiteful shots but Ilbay stubbornly would not budge as he made it to the final bell, but there was only one winner.
It was an impressive display from Crocker who will have won new admirers with power and skill, but also the fortitude to rally when the going got tough.
Earlier in the night, Kildare lightweight Gary Cully claimed the WBO European lightweight title with a second round knockout of Kazakhstan's Viktor Kotochigov.
The Naas southpaw timed a left beautifully that sent Kotochigov down heavily and despite his best efforts, was incapable of rising as the fight was waved off to see Cully impress in victory once again.