Dillian Whyte survived a ninth-round knockdown to overcome Oscar Rivas and edge closer to a world title shot in a gripping bout at London’s O2 Arena.
The British heavyweight was smart early on and was close to stopping Colombia’s Rivas in round two after a right hand.
Whyte, 31, has campaigned for a shot at WBC champion Deontay Wilder but his dreams looked set to be dashed when an uppercut floored him in the ninth.
He composed himself to land a unanimous 115-112 115-112 116-111 decision.
Whyte has been ranked as the WBC’s number one heavyweight – behind champion Wilder – for more than 600 days and many have questioned his decision to repeatedly take high-risk fights when a defeat could take his hopes of a title shot away.
In a split second against previously undefeated Rivas, such risk was made clear. Having been floored, Whyte took another heavy shot but found the spirit to rally with his own work in the closing 20 seconds of the ninth, drawing huge roars around the arena.
“I went to move and crossed my legs and got caught with a punch,” said Whyte. “I won every round after that. These guys have had hundreds of amateur fights; I had seven.
“I had a hell of a camp, lots of things have been happening behind the scenes. I wanted a war and had a war.
“He’s a great fighter. He’s a tough man. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and pop star Ellie Goulding were ringside, as was former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno, who was repeatedly out of his seat encouraging Whyte.
After a left-right combination sent 32-year-old Rivas staggering in round two, Whyte dictated range with a strong jab, nullifying the pressure Rivas looked to apply.
Whyte’s early power show seemed to discourage Rivas, who received an expletive-laden telling-off from his corner after the sixth as a result of his caution.
Rivas duly served up greater ambition and drama but could not quite build on his knockdown and Whyte came through a test which will surely pave the way to a first world title shot in the next 12 months.
The question is what the Brixton fighter does during that period as Wilder looks set for a rematch with Britain’s Tyson Fury in February.
Andy Ruiz Jr holds the division’s other three titles as he prepares to again face Anthony Joshua, whom Whyte turned down the chance to fight in April.
“We’re looking to get another fight booked for November, December time,” said Whyte.
“Titles matter – to beat these kind of guys. People keep writing me off but I keep showing up.”
Price shines to stop Allen
David Price produced his most complete performance in years to upset British rival Dave Allen.
Liverpool’s Price, taller by round five inches, controlled the early stages with a crisp jab and visibly grew in confidence to land more eye-catching blows as the bout progressed.
A series of well-timed uppercuts caught Allen whenever he did get close and, sporting a cut above his right eye, he retired after the 10th round following a discussion with his corner.
Allen, 27, was later taken to hospital and was reported to be having a precautionary scan. The Doncaster fighter has won cult hero status among fans for his comeback from a gambling addiction which saw him take on Luis Ortiz at short notice just to recoup money in 2016.
He has overcome the issue and reeled off notable wins over the last 12 months but he found 36-year-old Price – an Olympic and Commonwealth medallist – too classy from start to finish.
Allen was never able to force the kind of pace which could test the stamina issues Price has faced in the past and, even when he did begin to throw with more adventure late in the fight, he was picked off by smart work, notably when a short right hand landed in round nine.
Price celebrated wildly and with the manner of this display – his 25th win in 31 outings – showed he still has something to offer in the division.
Brutal Chisora wants Parker
Briton Dereck Chisora scored a superb win over Poland’s Artur Szpilka, landing a barrage of shots in round two including a stinging right hook which left Szpilka out on the canvas.
Chisora, 35, finished Szpilka far quicker than Wilder did in 2016 when he took nine rounds to land victory.
Chisora now hopes to face New Zealand’s former world champion Joseph Parker, with his manager David Haye saying: “It’s an easy fight to make.”