Leigh Wood retained his world featherweight title after weathering a ferocious onslaught from Josh Warrington to stop his British rival in a pulsating showdown at the Utilita Arena Sheffield.
In the first defence of his second reign as WBA champion, Wood absorbed some punishing blows over several rounds and remained upright despite being clearly troubled by Warrington’s relentless flurries.
Wood, though, kept his composure amid a cacophony of noise and unloaded with precise combination punching, finishing with a right to the temple and then a left when Warrington was on the way down.
Warrington, seeking to become a three-time champion at 126lbs, rose gamely but was on wobbly legs, prompting referee Michael Alexander to wave off the contest right at the end of the seventh round.
Warrington protested the decision before slumping his head on the referee’s shoulder in grim defeat as Wood celebrated his latest comeback victory to improve his record to 28 wins and three defeats.
A fight at the City Ground, home of his beloved Nottingham Forest, could be next for Wood, who could move up to super-featherweight after admitting boiling down to 126lbs was becoming increasingly tough.
While three years younger than his conqueror, Warrington’s future is less certain after slumping to his third defeat in 35 bouts, including back-to-back losses world title fights in just under a year.
He bemoaned his hesitancy in the initial forays of his points loss to Luis Alberto Lopez that cost him his IBF belt last December, but the Yorkshireman could not be accused of being similarly sluggish out of the traps this time.
A charging left hook in an early burst earned the respect of Wood, who switched to a southpaw stance early on which seemed to briefly unsettle his rival, allowing the champion to grow into the fight with some decent combinations.
However, Warrington upped the tempo in the third, regularly backing up his opponent on the ropes and winging away with full-blooded left and right hooks. Towards the end of the round, a stinging right rocked Wood’s head back and he returned to his seat with a welt underneath his right eye.
Wood, who constantly switched between orthodox and southpaw stances, soaked up plenty of left hooks which opened up a gash by the side of his right eye and his combination punching looked to be having little impact against Warrington.
Wood looked to be holding on as the one-way traffic continued into the fifth and sixth rounds and as the fight got it into the second half, it seemed he needed something special to hold on to his crown.
Less than two years on from a dramatic last-round knockout of Michael Conlan when he was behind on the cards, Wood again seized his opportunity shortly after Warrington had been deducted a point for punching round the back of the head.
A short right when Warrington was up against the ropes was the moment Wood was looking for and he spectacularly closed the show with pinpoint blows with both fists that sent his opponent tumbling to the floor.
Warrington got back to his feet midway through the count and walked unsteadily back to his corner with his back to the referee, who waved his arms to signal an end to an unforgettable fight.
On the undercard, Terri Harper retained her WBA light-middleweight title, but was unable to claim the vacant WBO belt as her bout against Cecilia Braekhus ended in a majority points draw.
Harper, 26, landed the more eye-catching blows against an opponent 16 years her senior but Braekhus, the former undisputed world welterweight champion, was competitive throughout.
One of the judges scored a nip-and-tuck contest 97-93 in Harper’s favour but the other two handed in 95-95 cards – a decision promoter Eddie Hearn branded a “joke” and “incompetent” officiating afterwards.