Billy Joe Saunders beat fellow Briton Martin Murray by unanimous decision to successfully retain his WBO super-middleweight crown at Wembley Arena.
It was the 30th win of his undefeated professional career for Saunders, who entered the world title bout rated a heavy 1-25 favourite by bookmakers.
Saunders took the fight 120-109 120-109 118-110 on the judges’ cards.
The 31-year-old is now eyeing the winner of Callum Smith’s bout with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on 19 December.
“I’ve been out over a year and it’s like boxing in the cemetery,” said Saunders.
“I like to perform for the crowd and I tried to set a rhythm but he is a cunning old fox and he ties you up well.
“I probably needed the rounds going into the New Year and I hope he has a good Christmas and he goes back to his family. The main thing is I’m 30-0.”
It was Murray’s fifth unsuccessful shot at a world title and the 38-year-old conceded afterwards it may be his last fight.
‘Let’s get the big names out there’
Saunders delivered a controlled and confident display, finding success with uppercuts and body shots as the southpaw dominated the early exchanges.
Murray stumbled to the canvas in the fourth round and, though a knockdown was not called, the veteran fighter clearly felt a powerful combination from Saunders.
“It was a clear knockdown,” said Saunders. “That could have changed the entire fight, if it was called a knockdown.”
Murray connected with a jab in the seventh and was competitive throughout, despite saying his back went in round eight, but Saunders was the dominant fighter and remained disciplined for the 12 rounds.
Saunders said afterwards his next outing “has to be a big fight”.
He was close to securing a fight with Alvarez in May before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Hertfordshire fighter was then considered as an opponent for the Mexican in September, but withdrew from talks, suggesting that he did not want to go into such a fight without adequate preparation, even if offered significant money.
Instead, fellow Briton Smith agreed to face Alvarez at short notice later this month.
“It’s very important for me to stay in the gym now because I’m not getting any younger,” added Saunders. “Let’s get the big names out there. I need a big fight to get up for it, I don’t want to sit in the dressing room, singing and dancing.”
What next for Murray?
Saunders said heading into the bout he was looking to “retire” his opponent and, while Murray would not commit to whether he will fight again, he did concede this was his last chance of winning a world title.
The 38-year-old has won 11 different belts during his career but an elusive global crown has always proved just out of the St Helens man’s reach.
After a controversial draw with Felix Sturm and similarly debatable defeat by Sergio Martinez, Gennady Golovkin inflicted the first stoppage of Murray’s career back in 2015.
His fourth title shot, against Arthur Abraham, ended in a split-decision win for the German on home soil and finally, five years later, this defeat by Saunders looks to have ended the Englishman’s hopes.
Murray feared the coronavirus pandemic had finished his career but returned to the ring after a 13-month absence saying he had one big fight left in him.
“Five times for the world title, five times, I am not going to get six,” he said. “I am 38, I just want to spend time with my family now – never say never, but I think that’s it. I tried.
“It’s taken a lot of wear and tear on my body, never say never but I am ready for a good rest.
“I had a colourful past before I turned pro. When I turned pro, I said I wanted no regrets, and I’ve done that. I could’ve been a double-weight world champion if the judges or luck was on my side but it didn’t work out that way.”
On the undercard, Belfast fighter James Tennyson made short work of Canadian Josh O’Reilly in an eliminator for the WBA lightweight title, stopping his opponent after two minutes and 14 seconds.
British bantamweight Shannon Courtenay bounced back from the first defeat of her professional career in August to stop Poland’s Dorota Norek in the seventh round.
What the pundits said…
BBC boxing pundit Steve Bunce: “They were 12 hard rounds. It was a classic Billy Joe performance, Not the slickest we have seen him, but he did what he had to do.
“It was ugly, it wasn’t spectacular, but it was a big, solid display. Martin Murray, even at 38, is not a shell that you can blow away easily.”
Former middleweight world champion Andy Lee on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra: “Saunders did what he always does, which is doing enough to win.
“Although what we saw tonight may not have been enough to beat Callum Smith or Canelo, when he faces them in the ring it will be a different Billy Joe Saunders.
“He will raise his game. He always fights at the level of the person he is facing.”