Bakhram Murtazaliev delivered as expected in winning a vacant IBF junior middleweight belt Saturday at the Stadthalle Falkensee in Falkensee, Germany – but he was made to work for every inch of it.

Although Murtazaliev (22-0, 16 KOs) overcame challenger Jack Culcay (33-5, 14 KOs) with an 11th-round stoppage, Culcay showed in the process just how far a fighting spirit and a good chin can take a fighter.

After 10 rounds, Murtazaliev was ahead on two cards – a much-too-wide 99-91 and a more-realistic 96-94 – and was down on a third (which read 96-94 for Culcay). Boxing Scene also had it 96-94 Culcay, who outworked his opponent in many rounds – although the harder punches always came from Murtazaliev.

Loosened up by a left hook late in a torrid 11th round, Culcay finally went down on a decisive blow from Murtazaliev. Culcay was up before the 10 count, but the fighter was (correctly) stopped by the referee at 2:50 of the round.

Promoter Kathy Duva compared the fight to the epic first Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward battle – and why not? Moments, and even stretches, of the fight certainly lived up to the comparison.

Murtazaliev, a 31-year-old Russian based in Los Angeles, won the early rounds by effectively using his reach, but Culcay then dug deep and took the fight to his opponent, walking through hard punches and taking over the fight. There were many hard exchanges, but most seemed to end with Murtazaliev forced to retreat as Culcay won rounds sheerly on the basis of his work rate.

The harder punches came from Murtazaliev, though. In the ninth, both fighters were staggered – but it was Culcay who finally seemed to cave in. In the 11th, he appeared to have nothing left and took a beating. Murtazaliev appeared to have punched himself out on his opponent’s granite chin, but he pulled out all stops to finish Culcay before he could get out of the round.

For Germany’s Culcay, 38, the fight may very well mark the end, but there are worse endings than going out in a Fight of the Year candidate.