Joshua Buatsi came through the first major test of his professional career to halt Marko Calic in the seventh round and retain his WBA International light-heavyweight title on Sunday night.
The Croydon fighter had been out of the ring for 402 days and looked in distress in the third round when he was thumbed in the eye.
But Buatsi, 27, responded impressively to have Croatian Calic wilting at the end of the fifth round.
The South Londoner, ranked highly by nearly all of the major governing bodies, keep up the onslaught and his opponent was given a count in the seventh round before his corner pulled their man out.
Buatsi moves his record to 13-0 with 11 stoppages and this was his fifth defence of his WBA belt and eighth inside-the-distance finish in a row.
Calic, 33, suffered a first loss in his 12-bout career.
Buatsi: “Props to Calic – he told me his jaw was broken. Big respect to him.
“I had to dig deep. I got a thumb in the third round or something. I felt the swelling straight away. It’s never happened before but we bite down and we fight. When you’re in there you do what you need to do to win.
“I noticed he went southpaw [just before the finish]. I looped the right hand and I knew he was hurt. Each round was competitive. Four hundred days out of the ring, so the first one back is quite different – but I enjoyed it.
“He was a great opponent. He was under the radar but we knew he was a top amateur but now people should know about him.”
Buatsi was boxing without any live crowd at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, with the Covid-19 pandemic meaning that fight fans were not allowed to attend.
“It was a very unique atmosphere,” he said. “But I heard his comments that he was coming to beat me up. That was enough for me. He was coming ‘to burst the Buatsi bubble’ and bro, I was here to defend it. We did what we had to do.
“I just want to move forward – no matter how slow or how quick – is all that matters.”
Buatsi’s promoter Eddie Hearn is planning to put the Olympic bronze medallist on another show in December.
“That’s the aim,” said Buatsi. “We can go straight to it.
“We all have talents and gifts but when I’m in there I’m solely dependent on God to help me out.
“We train hard and work hard but when I’m in there I’m saying: ‘God, you’ve got to help me out – I need you to show up’. I’ll chill out with the team and recover.”
PHOTOS: MARK ROBINSON/MATCHROOM BOXING
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