Anthony Crolla breathed new life into his career with a unanimous points win over Ricky Burns in a non-title lightweight bout on Saturday in Manchester, England.
While former titleholder Crolla put himself back into contention after suffering back-to-back losses to Jorge Linares, Burns slipped further away from big fights.
Crolla (32-6-3, 13 KOs) finished the fight bleeding from the nose after a fierce exchange in the 12th round, but his work rate deservedly earned him scores of 116-113, 117-112 and 116-114.
"I thought I definitely did enough," said Crolla. "He just kept coming, he gave me a very tough fight, but I thought my quality shots won it."
Burns (41-7-1, 14 KOs), who has now lost two in a row unanimously on points, disagreed.
"Although it was close, I thought I did enough," said Burns. "I thought I landed the cleaner shots. In my eyes, I thought I just edged it."
With no knockdowns, the bout was not thrilling, but it was nevertheless absorbing and featured some vicious exchanges.
A rematch could take place next year, although Crolla still has ambitions of facing one of the world lightweight titleholders: Linares, California's Mikey Garcia, Ohio's Robert Easter Jr and Manchester's Terry Flanagan, who went to the same school as Manchester native Crolla.
"I owe these people [in Manchester] another world title, the way they get behind me," said Crolla.
Burns, who lost the WBA world light welterweight belt to Namibia's Julius Indongo in April, was better than his last performance. He will naturally want the rematch.
Crolla said afterward he was even prepared to travel to Glasgow for a second fight with Burns.
For Crolla, this was just the result he needed in front of his home fans at the Manchester Arena.
The 30-year-old won the WBA belt from Darleys Perez in 2015, but then lost it on points to Linares a year ago, before the Venezuelan beat him in a rematch in March (both unanimously on points).
Burns also entered the fight with a point to prove. He was disappointing against Indongo, who went on to be knocked out by Terence Crawford in August. The Coatbridge-based boxer revived his career by winning a world title at a third weight division in May 2016, but after a wide points loss to Indongo, dropped down a division in order to face Crolla.
Neither could afford defeat in this crossroads encounter, and in the last two rounds, they furiously attacked each other. Early on, Crolla's work rate seemed to have him ahead at the halfway stage, although Burns had his moments behind his jab at long range.
At 34 and four years older, Burns did not look as fresh as Crolla, who attacked to the body as he kept up the work rate. But Burns landed a thudding right uppercut in the seventh and the pair began fighting more at close range, targeting the body.
Burns splattered Crolla's nose with a jab in the ninth, but the Manchester boxer shrugged off the blood to maintain his work rate.
Some of the rounds were close, but Crolla's pressure seemed to have him comfortably ahead going into the 11th, which finished with both firing at each other. The 12th was the same, with both letting their shots go, but Burns could not find the shots to rescue the fight for him.
Earlier on the undercard, Sam Eggington lost his European welterweight title in a first defence to France's slippery southpaw Mohamed Mimoune, who won a split decision by scores of 116-112, 115-113 to 112-116.
Mimoune, 30, captured his first significant title seven years after turning professional, and he thoroughly deserved the decision, despite one judge scoring it for the Englishman.
Even Eggington thought he lost.
"He definitely scored with a few shots every round, it was a fair decision," said Eggington, who also hinted he could now move up a weight division after losing the European belt in a first defence.