Callum Smith scored a unanimous decision victory to retain his WBA super middleweight world title but was made to toil by a gallant John Ryder in Liverpool, England.
The home-city fighter was an overwhelming favorite against Londoner Ryder but was troubled by the work rate of his tireless opponent, who gave up plenty in height and reach.
Smith nonetheless moved to 27-0, with the judges scoring it 117-111, 116-112 and 116-112 in his favor, having clearly decided he landed the cleaner punches.
It was hardly the statement performance Smith would have wanted as he chases career-defining fights with the likes of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez or Billy Joe Saunders, but a below-par showing here may actually make those bouts easier to make.
"I knew he was a tough fighter, I knew it was a tough fight," Smith said after the bout. "It wasn't the best performance from myself, but I was due a bad one.
"I'm a perfectionist and I always want to do the best as possible. Listen, I know how good I am, how good I can be.
"I want the best names in the division. The fear brings out the best performance in myself."
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) November 23, 2019
Ryder vastly outperformed expectations and the fact there was a smattering of boos amid a partisan home crowd after the scores were read out told a story in itself.
After an uneventful couple of opening rounds, Smith began to up the work rate and although the man nicknamed "Mundo" suffered a cut in the fourth, some clean hooks in the fifth had Ryder in trouble for the first time.
A sharp right and some thudding strikes in the sixth suggested Smith's class was about to tell, but Ryder's relentless grit was causing the champion issues.
Good work on the ropes from close range would have had Ryder dreaming of an upset and the underdog upped the ante when trainer Tony Sims warned him Smith may try to steal it with the jab.
Both men landed big hooks in a brilliant final round, but ultimately it was controversially deemed Smith had done enough to control the fight.