Welterweight Shawn Porter earned the rematch he has so badly wanted against world titleholder Keith Thurman.
Porter, a former titleholder, dominated former two-time titlist Andre Berto in a ninth-round knockout victory before a crowd of 9,118 in an all-action world title elimination fight Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
With the win, Porter earned a mandatory title shot against Thurman, who narrowly outpointed Porter last June to retain his belt and then went on to unify two titles against Danny Garcia on March 4.
Porter (27-2-1, 17 KOs), who looked like he was on a mission from the start, took Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) apart to set up the rematch with Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs).
Fighting for the first time in the 10 months since losing to Thurman, Porter pounded away at Berto, knocking him down twice in a bloody fight in which both men were cut multiple times by accidental head butts as they waged a ferocious inside battle.
"I got to clean up those head butts," Porter said. "We tried to use the whole ring, but sometimes in the heat of the battle, I'm a fighter and Mr. Berto is a fighter as well. Those head butts were just the two of us going in and fighting.
"My intention is never to use my head as a weapon. This was a just very hard-fought battle by both of us and I'm blessed to get the victory."
After a close opening round, Porter took over. He was relentless, regularly forcing Berto to the ropes and going to town with body shots and right hands. When Berto tried to clinch, Porter would have none of it, pushing him away and continuing to fire punches.
In the second round, Porter suffered his first cut, over his left eye, from an accidental head clash, but later in the round he nailed Berto with a right hand for the first knockdown.
He rocked Berto, 33, of Winter Haven, Florida, again in the third round, sending him into the ropes. Berto tried to fight back and had his moments, including in an action-packed fourth round, during which Porter suffered another cut, this time over the right eye from another accidental head butt.
Later in the fourth round, yet another accidental head butt opened a cut over Berto's left eye.
Before the fifth round, referee Mark Nelson asked the ringside doctor to check on Berto's cut, which appeared worse than Porter's. Berto, who was coming off a one-year layoff since knocking out Victor Ortiz in the fifth round of their rematch last April, was also bleeding from his nose.
The cuts were taking their toll on both fighters, who had them checked by ringside doctors before the sixth round. To Porter's credit, he could have complained of vision problems to force the fight to be stopped and sent to the scorecards for a technical decision in a bout he was clearly winning.
But Porter, 29, of Las Vegas, who earned $1 million, fought on and continued to strafe Berto with punches, punishing him to the body and head, especially with his right hand.
The doctor checked Berto's cut again before the ninth round. Moments later, Porter slammed him with a right hand that sent Berto careening into the ropes. The ropes were responsible for keeping Berto on his feet, and Nelson ruled it a knockdown.
When the fight resumed, Porter immediately charged at Berto, whose purse was $1.2 million, and landed a left hook and a hard right hand that sent him falling into the ring post. Nelson jumped in to stop the fight at 1 minute, 31 seconds.
"I have to give him credit, but he's a rough fighter," said Berto, who dropped to 4-5 in his past nine bouts. "He has great skills, but at the same time, he's going to be rough and try to handle me any way he can. I got a lot of head butts, and he did, too. Shawn is a tough competitor. We had a good, competitive fight until the head butts got to be a little too much for me. But I thought it was a really good fight before that."
Porter was leading by wide margins on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage: 79-71, 78-74 and 78-73. His dominance was illustrated in the CompuBox punch statistics; he landed 175 of 448 blows (39 percent), and Berto landed only 81 of 254 (32 percent).
"Shawn is a warrior. I am so proud of him," said Kenny Porter, Shawn's father and trainer. "Berto is a warrior, too, but we were blessed with the victory. We did what we had to do. Shawn was prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.
"Shawn wanted to send a sign to everyone that he deserves that shot at the title and he is ready for it."
There is a good chance the rematch with Thurman will be Porter's next fight.
"I was just up here wishing he said yes -- that's the fight I want next," Porter said of Thurman, who was ringside for the bout.
Thurman said he is definitely game for a sequel.
"His team was adamant about the rematch, and now he's fought his way to earn that," Thurman said. "We just need to sit down and talk about it. He's hungry. You see the way he fights. It could be a great fight again.
"Shawn was relentless in the fashion we know he can fight. He had Berto's number. He was in great shape. Team Porter always does a great job."
Thurman managed to avoid any serious head butts last June and said he would continue to be wary of Porter's head when they fight again.
"Me and Berto are different fighters. There were a lot of head butts, but I know to watch out for that," Thurman said. "Berto is a little more flat-footed than me, and that played in Shawn's favor. They deserve all the credit in the world. He fought a great fight."
It was exactly the kind of fight Porter needed to fight to pave the way to the rematch with Thurman he wants so much.