Dillian Whyte endured a hard old night at Wembley Arena but got back to winning ways with a grueling 12-round majority decision over Jermaine Franklin to seemingly set up a rematch with Anthony Joshua.
It was an odd fight, as Whyte seemed in the main content to stand in front of Franklin and exchange. He hardly used his jab and only really upped the pace when Franklin opened up. There were times when he looked hurt, but Franklin was unwilling, or unable, to press any advantage.
One judge, Michael Alexander, scored it a draw, but Juergen Langos and Grzegorz Molenda both had it 116-112 to Whyte.
It is seven months since Whyte’s epic quest to box for the WBC heavyweight title ended in disappointment as he was stopped by Tyson Fury in six rounds across the road at Wembley Stadium. This was one step on the road back, with a rematch with Joshua, who was ringside, the target for next summer – probably back at Wembley Stadium.
In his three weeks since coming to the UK, Franklin had seemingly sparred with several British heavyweights and the rumours were mixed about how well he had done. But this represented a serious opportunity for him and with Whyte having been stopped or knocked out in two of his last three fights, he had questions to answer too.
In the first they mostly eyed each other up, while seemingly trying to get an opening for a left hook.
Whyte rolled forward more in the second, targeting the body, although Franklin used his jab and got through with a couple of straight rights.
Things livened up in the third round as Whyte walked forward more, constantly aiming left hooks to the body, while Franklin was forced to work to keep him off. The American did have some success, though, land a good straight right and an uppercut.
Franklin, who was unbeaten in 21 fights coming in, did better in the fourth as Whyte seemed frozen at range, allowing Franklin to throw without worry of an instant punch coming back at him.
Whyte was warned for a low punch early in the fifth round, but there were signs that Franklin was growing into the fight as he caught Whyte with a combination after turning him on the ropes.
There was more from Whyte in the sixth, but he was fighting a strange fight, totally ignoring his jab to try and fight inside and make space for hooks. He landed two good uppercuts, but Franklin was landing well too and a right seemed to hurt Whyte. Franklin finished the session well, too.
After an early spurt from Franklin in the seventh round, Whyte actually used his jab, which helped him move the American back to the ropes. There he opened up with some big hooks that had Franklin shaking his head.
But Franklin came back in the eighth, when Whyte seemed to delay interminably before throwing.
For most of the ninth round, Whyte settled for prodding out a left jab, apart from one big left hook, but late in the round, Franklin landed an overhand right and Whyte looked in trouble.
The tenth was a grueling round in the main, but it concluded with Whyte landing his best two punches of the fight, a right hook, followed b a big left.
The eleventh was another fought at close quarters as they banged lumps out of each other.
Franklin did his best to take the fight to Whyte in the last round, but he was hurt by a big right and then Whyte came on in the final minute. With seconds remaining, a right sent Franklin tumbling back to the ropes but there was no time to force a stoppage.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.