In a bout labelled as the battle of Manchester, Anthony Crolla successfully defended his WBO Inter-continental title with a stunning tenth round stoppage of John Murray.
The former gym-mates and good friends went toe-to-toe with each other for the majority of the fight as it turned into another classic at Manchester’s Phones 4u Arena.
Murray, as expected, looked to go after his opponent straight from the bell, stalking Crolla and throwing big punches. But the title holder fought smart, staying out of range and continuously catching Murray with his stinging jab.
Murray had Crolla on the ropes in the third round as he closed down the space, but the favourite grew into it - coming well out on top from the eighth onwards.
"It was even tougher than I expected," Crolla told Sky Sports. "No matter how tough that looked, me and John were the luckiest men in this arena.
"I prepared for this fight like no other, John put the fear of God into me. I remember how tough those sparring sessions were and I knew I had to keep a cool head in a hot kitchen."
The pair's respect for each other was evident throughout, and the former European champion, Murray, continued to unload a heavy volume of shots as he looked to land the killer blow.
The 29-year-old's punches certainly looked to be causing more damage than Crolla's in the earlier stages, but he couldn't catch him clean.
Crolla's accuracy with his jab, left-counters and upper-cuts caused a host of problems as the fight went on and Murray began to look heavy legged and fatigued.
Murray's right eye became swollen and by the end of the bout his nose was a bloody mess, but he kept on going at Crolla at every opportunity.
You could sense that Murray needed the KO, as Crolla began to dominate and pick off his opponent.
The 27-year-old's confidence had grown measurably judging by his start to the tenth round, catching his old friend cleanly off both sides.
Murray's tank appeared to be running dry and Crolla put him down with a left-hand that owed more to Murray's tiredness than a single shot.
Crolla sensed his time had come and he opened up in style, backing Murray into a neutral corner and unloading some big, accurate strikes that forced Terry O'Connor to intervene.
Murray admitted after that Crolla had been the better man on the night.
"I gave it my all, I was the best I've been in training and he's beaten me at my best," he said. "I want to take my hat off to Anthony because he was bang on.
"I don't want to make any excuses, as the rounds went on maybe I began to feel the inactivity but full respect to Anthony, I had a full camp and felt great."
Murray’s style and reputation will ensure he needn't worry about his phone falling silent and I would not be surprised to see him attempt to regain his British title against the winner of the fight between Martin Gethin and Derry Mathews.
While Crolla, on the other hand, is building a pretty strong case for consideration as Britain’s best Lightweight, a reputation currently held by Ricky Burns.
The fight certainly lived up to its billing, and the classy win for Crolla should propel his world title hopes massively.
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