Anthony Joshua retained his IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles with a brutal seventh-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin at Wembley.
A tough fight
Back at the stadium where he beat the great Wladimir Klitschko in an 11-round thriller last year, Joshua again went to the trenches against a high-class opponent. Povetkin, 39, wobbled Joshua at the end of round one and the champion's nose was oozing blood in the second as he struggled with the Russian veteran's rumbling and relentless attacks.
Some nasty damage above the left eye did not dissuade the challenger and the fight was up for grabs at halfway before Joshua – now with a perfect record of 22 victories from as many professional contests - sensationally took the scorecards out of the equation.
A booming right and clean left
A booming right hand saw Povetkin (34-2) sag and a clean left hook followed by a straight right sent him groggily to the canvas, with no chance of avoiding a first stoppage loss of his career amid the follow-up barrage that followed.
The clamour will now increase for Joshua to face the winner of the December 1 bout between WBC king Deontay Wilder and undefeated former champion Tyson Fury when he returns to this venue on April 13.
Joshua began sharply, clipping Povetkin with a toned-down version of the left hook he would later detonate so concussively. However, he was staggered as Povetkin found a left of his own, setting the tone for a gripping back-and-forth contest.
The visitor's swarming style, which saw him duck low before springing hooks and overhand rights upon a discomforted Joshua clearly gave him the second.
There was more punishment in three as blood continued to spill over the home favourite's lips, but a Povetkin cut gave him encouragement – a problem he made worse for his rival with a blistering one-two in the fourth.
Povetkin's corner were dealing with potentially fight-ending damage, which prompted their man to tear after an uneasy Joshua in round five. The uppercut that drew roars from the Wembley masses in the sixth had not come a moment too soon.
Perhaps Povetkin should have been more dissuaded than he was as he ended the session strongly. He went looking for Joshua again after a minute on the stool where he would soon be convalescing.
What the veteran found was savage, uncompromising and – from his point of view – not particularly pleasant.