Carl Frampton outshone the "Filipino Flash" Nonito Donaire in a unanimous points win to put himself back in world title contention on Saturday.
Frampton lifted the WBO interim featherweight title with victory over Donaire in another step toward fighting the (nine-stone) division's best.
Frampton's controlled display, which showed plenty of respect and caution for four-weight world champion Donaire, earned him scores of 117-111 on all three scorecards at the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Mexico's Leo Santa Cruz took Frampton's WBA belt and No. 1 status in the featherweight division with a points win in their January 2017 rematch. This was Frampton's second fight since that first professional setback and it was an improvement upon November's points win over Horacio Garcia in which he faded during the later rounds.
"I didn't have to get involved in a fight there, as you saw in the last round Nonito Donaire is a dangerous m-----f-----," Frampton said in a live television interview afterward. "I survived the round and stuck to my game plan. The only thing on my mind is Windsor Park and I can't wait to get there."
Northern Irishman Frampton (25-1, 14 KOs), 31, is hoping to meet WBO world featherweight champion Oscar Valdez at Belfast's Windsor Park in August. If Mexican Valdez relinquishes the WBO belt to step up a division, Frampton will be promoted from interim to full world champion status.
Another option is to face either of his British rivals Lee Selby and Josh Warrington, who meet for Selby's IBF world title on May 19. Promoter Frank Warren promotes Frampton, Selby and Warrington.
After a brilliant 17-year-professional career and a fifth defeat, the U.S.-based Donaire (38-4, 24 KOs) is beyond his glory days but gave a good account of himself. Donaire has won titles in four weight classes -- flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight -- and troubled Frampton in the seventh and 11th rounds.
Frampton, who has won world titles at featherweight and super-bantamweight, got into his stride in the second round and in the third was really sharp with his punches and reactions. Frampton boxed off the jab, attacked in two- or three-punch bursts, and on occasion landed a body shot followed by a cute uppercut. In the fourth, Frampton landed a couple of clubbing right hands with Donaire trapped against the ropes as the home hero dominated.
Frampton stood off Donaire, refused to get drawn into a brawl, and mostly avoided his opponent's danger shots. But Donaire, who had damage under the left eye, broke Frampton's rhythm in the fifth round with two successive left uppercuts. Donaire also wobbled Frampton briefly with a right uppercut in the seventh round, but Frampton's precise punches were leaving Donaire's face marked up.
Frampton was quicker and more savvy, but Donaire, to his credit, remained in the hunt and in the 11th landed some good shots.
"The 11th round, I was definitely hurt, but that's what champions do," Frampton said.
Frampton took more shots in the final round, but he was never in any real danger and the verdict was never in doubt.