Anthony Joshua was taken the distance for the first time before beating New Zealand’s Joseph Parker by unanimous decision and becoming a three-belt world heavyweight boxing champion.
Following a fight whose flow was disrupted by the regular interventions of Italian referee Giuseppe Quartarone, two judges awarded it to Joshua 118-110, with the other judge scoring it 119-109.
Joshua won his previous 20 fights by knockout but struggled to land many clean shots on Parker, who stayed alive with his movement and counterattacking skills in front of a crowd of 78,000 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
The 2012 Olympic gold medallist added Parker’s WBO belt to his own WBA Super, IBF and IBO titles.
“We’re not satisfied,” Joshua said, “but one step at a time.”
Joshua has now moved within one belt of becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000.
Deontay Wilder holds the other main heavyweight belt, the WBC’s, and could meet Joshua before the end of this year.
“Wilder, let’s go baby,” Joshua screamed in his interview inside the ring.
“IBO, WBO, WBA, IBF. I’m not into the hype, let’s get the business done. Let’s see what the future holds, I’m down for whatever, whenever.”
Both fighters had stepped into the ring undefeated, with Joshua weighing in six pounds heavier than his shorter opponent and with a longer reach.
If some had expected an early knockout it did not pan out that way, even if Joshua could be said to have controlled most of the 12 rounds by using his jab and left hooks to telling effect.
Apart from an explosive sixth round, with both trading some stinging blows, neither looked likely to buckle with Parker showing more staying power than any of Joshua’s previous opponents.
The referee also intervened repeatedly, breaking up the fight just as it seemed to be heating up and calling a time out in the ninth with Joshua returning to his corner to tighten up his gloves.
“My strategy was to stick behind the jab and that secured me another world title belt,” Joshua said.
“I know the bookies say I might get a knockout but forget the hype, Parker was a world champion. This was a boxing match, not a fight. Parker said this would be war, I said this would be boxing finesse.”
The 26-year-old New Zealander, who was led into the ring by Samoan chiefs under a barrage of strobe lights, was gracious in defeat.
“I was beaten by the better man,” Parker said after losing for the first time in 25 fights.
“I’m going to come back stronger. No regrets, just take it on the chin.”
It was only the second heavyweight unification title bout between unbeaten fighters, after Mike Tyson against Tony Tucker in 1987.