Jack Catterall maintained his unbeaten record and set up some big fights later in the year by edging out Tyrone McKenna in Belfast on Saturday night.
The Chorley star knocked down the home favourite twice at the SSE Arena in the first-half of the 10-round contest.
But McKenna produced a gutsy display to take the fight the distance, Catterall retaining his WBO Intercontinental super lightweight title and lofty world ranking via unanimous decision with one judge scoring the contest 95-91 with the other two cards reading 94-93.
After a tight opening three minutes, a big left hand sent the Irishman to the canvas in the second round only for a late shot when McKenna was down to rule it null and void with referee Steve Gray deducting a point from Catterall.
The 24-year-old got straight back to work through and another left hand sent his much taller opponent down again at the end of the round.
To his credit McKenna then dug in during the third and fourth sessions despite the quality always coming from Catterall.
Round five looked like it may be the decisive one with a body shot sending the Belfast man down early on but he again battled on.
Despite blood pouring from a cut above the right eye McKenna even rallied towards the end of the three minutes as he looked to stay alive.
From then on Catterall was always in control but it was not a comfortable night’s work by any stretch.
McKenna, who had Preston’s Johnney Roye looking after his cuts in the corner, was roared on by a vocal home crowd and went on the offensive when he could, especially in the sixth.
The closing rounds saw Catterall keep his composure against a lively and colourful foe even if the former British champion couldn’t press home his early advantage.
Two of the cards saw him only take victory by just a round but Catterall had done enough to extend his unbeaten professional record to 22-0 and inflict a first defeat on McKenna who slipped to 16-1-1.
Next up Catterall is set to face British rival Ohara Davies, a clash between the pair having been talked up in recent weeks, with the winner likely to close in on a world title shot down the line.