MANCHESTER -- Carl Frampton boxed clever to ensure a split points victory over rival world junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg on Saturday.
Frampton made a third defence of his IBF belt and captured Quigg's WBA title in the world title unification fight to end his rival's unbeaten record with a dominant display that should have earned him a unanimous decision.
On the eve of the fight, Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs) claimed he would be victorious because he was simply "better than him". And so it proved, as Belfast's unbeaten Frampton boxed and moved to frustrate his opponent from Bury, earning scores of 116-112, 116-112 to 115-113 against in front of a frenzied crowd of 20,000 at the Manchester Arena.
Frampton's domination should have earned him victory on all three judges' scorecards as he out-classed Quigg for long spells of the fight.
Frampton was too clever and slick, using his skills, jab, feints and short hooks to leave Quigg out of ideas as he slumped to his first professional loss.
Amid all the emotion swirling around the venue, Frampton kept his cool and his head to execute a carefully considered game plan. It was absorbing rather than exciting, with Quigg having no answer to Frampton's tidy boxing and looking out-classed at times.
Quigg (31-2-2, 23 KOs) only came alive in the later rounds and Frampton finished the fight as he had been for most of it: in control.
Frampton's next fight is likely to be another severe test of his credentials against Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban who is still regarded as the division's best despite being stripped of his WBA and WBO world titles due to inactivity.
Miami-based Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KOs), 35, is still the WBA's 'Champion in Recess' and Frampton must face the Cuban by July 27.
It was one of the most eagerly awaited fights in British boxing in recent years and the biggest ever between two British junior featherweights.
At least 10,000 fans had made the trip from Belfast and with tickets at the venue shared equally between the fighters, there was a deafening din as the rival world titleholders walked to the ring from opposite ends of the arena.
Frampton walked to the ring last after two successful defences of his IBF belt while Quigg had made six defences of his WBA belt although was only promoted to full world champion status after his last fight.
It had been over four years in the making and after so much expectation, there was a danger the fight would be a let down.
But there was not much aggression early on as neither fighter wanted to commit much with Frampton scoring with more jabs. Frampton, 29 last Sunday, doubled up his jab in the second as he grew bolder while Quigg was more hesitant in letting his hands go.
Quigg, 27, landed a good two-punch combination later in the second but it lacked power to really trouble Frampton.
It continued to be tense in the third with Frampton doing the pressing and throwing the more punches, although there were few clean blows landed.
Frampton was boxing well in the fourth, landing shots from an array of different angles and seemed in control as he slipped the few shots that came back at him.
But Quigg then caught him with a fast right on the ropes, the best punch of the fight so far, and Frampton had to scuttle away to safety.
It was a rare moment of pressure and ambition from Quigg, who after five rounds looked out of ideas as Frampton out-boxed and out-thought him.
Quigg looked to catch Frampton with single big shots on the counter while the Northern Irishman was content to box sensibly and add to his points lead. Quigg was better in the seventh when he spun on the spot after stumbling and then caught Frampton with a left hook.
Quigg needed a knockout and he was more aggressive from the 10th and the fight was close in the latter rounds. He had his best round in the 11th and caught Frampton on a few occasions, with the Belfast boxer left holding on.
But Frampton finished in control, even doing a cocky shuffle in the final moments.