Dillian Whyte survived a ninth-round knockdown to overcome Oscar Rivas and edge closer to a world title shot in a gripping bout at London’s O2 Arena.
The British heavyweight was smart early on and was close to stopping Colombia’s Rivas in round two after a right hand.
Whyte, 31, has campaigned for a shot at WBC champion Deontay Wilder but his dreams looked set to be dashed when an uppercut floored him in the ninth.
He composed himself to land a unanimous 115-112 115-112 116-111 decision.
Whyte has been ranked as the WBC’s number one heavyweight – behind champion Wilder – for more than 600 days and many have questioned his decision to repeatedly take high-risk fights when a defeat could take his hopes of a title shot away.
In a split second against previously undefeated Rivas, such risk was made clear. Having been floored, Whyte took another heavy shot but found the spirit to rally with his own work in the closing 20 seconds of the ninth, drawing huge roars around the arena.
“I went to move and crossed my legs and got caught with a punch,” said Whyte. “I won every round after that. These guys have had hundreds of amateur fights; I had seven.
“I had a hell of a camp, lots of things have been happening behind the scenes. I wanted a war and had a war.
“He’s a great fighter. He’s a tough man. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and pop star Ellie Goulding were ringside, as was former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno, who was repeatedly out of his seat encouraging Whyte.
After a left-right combination sent 32-year-old Rivas staggering in round two, Whyte dictated range with a strong jab, nullifying the pressure Rivas looked to apply.
Whyte’s early power show seemed to discourage Rivas, who received an expletive-laden telling-off from his corner after the sixth as a result of his caution.
Rivas duly served up greater ambition and drama but could not quite build on his knockdown and Whyte came through a test which will surely pave the way to a first world title shot in the next 12 months.
The question is what the Brixton fighter does during that period as Wilder looks set for a rematch with Britain’s Tyson Fury in February.
Andy Ruiz Jr holds the division’s other three titles as he prepares to again face Anthony Joshua, whom Whyte turned down the chance to fight in April.
“We’re looking to get another fight booked for November, December time,” said Whyte.
“Titles matter – to beat these kind of guys. People keep writing me off but I keep showing up.”
Price shines to stop Allen
David Price produced his most complete performance in years to upset British rival Dave Allen.
Liverpool’s Price, taller by around five inches, controlled the early stages with a crisp jab and visibly grew in confidence to land more eye-catching blows as the bout progressed.
A series of well-timed uppercuts caught Allen whenever he did get close and, sporting a cut above his right eye, he retired after the 10th round following a discussion with his corner.
Allen, 27, was later taken to hospital and was reported to be having a precautionary scan. The Doncaster fighter has won cult hero status among fans for his comeback from a gambling addiction which saw him take on Luis Ortiz at short notice just to recoup money in 2016.
He has overcome the issue and reeled off notable wins over the last 12 months but he found 36-year-old Price – an Olympic and Commonwealth medallist – too classy from start to finish.
Allen was never able to force the kind of pace which could test the stamina issues Price has faced in the past and, even when he did begin to throw with more adventure late in the fight, he was picked off by smart work, notably when a short right hand landed in round nine.
Price celebrated wildly and with the manner of this display – his 25th win in 31 outings – showed he still has something to offer in the division.
Brutal Chisora wants Parker
Briton Dereck Chisora scored a superb win over Poland’s Artur Szpilka, landing a barrage of shots in round two including a stinging right hook which left Szpilka out on the canvas.
Chisora, 35, finished Szpilka far quicker than Wilder did in 2016 when he took nine rounds to land victory.
Chisora now hopes to face New Zealand’s former world champion Joseph Parker, with his manager David Haye saying: “It’s an easy fight to make.”
England. All-rounders. The Ashes.
To Ian Botham in 1981 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005, add Ben Stokes 2019.
But, whereas it is exploits against the oldest enemies for which Botham and Flintoff will always be remembered, this was Stokes’ encore to his first career-defining performance in the World Cup final.
Some people only get one chance to play the innings of a lifetime. Stokes has done it twice in six weeks.
The multiple journeys to the glorious afternoon at a sun-baked Headingley are many and varied.
For England, the gap between two of the most incredible victories in their history might only have been a month and a half, but it was also pale blue kit to white, London to Leeds and Sweet Caroline to the wall of noise from the Western Terrace.
Speaking of the Terrace, the England supporters themselves have been taken on their own, shorter trip.
From the despair of 48 hours earlier, when the home batting was nothing but the tatters of 67 all out and an England batsman would have been wise to sprint the Otley Run, rather than join in a fancy dress pub crawl.
England fans don’t stay angry for long, though, and by Saturday they were back behind their team. Even when the scarcely possible target of 359 was still 300 away, they were cheering each Joe Denly edge through the slips as if it were a David Gower cover drive.
By Sunday, and with all seats taken by the time play began, the Leeds crowd was willing every defensive stroke to be solid, erupting for every pinched single and collectively beckoning the ball into the stands every time Stokes opened his shoulders.
Never has the belief in a sporting dream so improbable been rewarded with such an astonishing victory.
For Stokes, there is the journey from the piece of tarmac outside a Bristol nightclub to now, from the moment that could have cost him his England career to the moments for which he will forever be etched into the nation’s sporting consciousness.
Just over a year ago, Stokes was returning to England team after being cleared of affray. When he walked out to bat at Trent Bridge, having taken the place of Sam Curran, there were boos from some sections of the crowd.
Speaking after his Headingley heroics, Stokes did not want to talk about the 12-month change in his emotions – “a year is a long time ago”, he said – but there must surely be some extra mustard on his performances against Australia, given that the same incident cost him his place on the tour down under in 2017-18.
Even before this game, there was a century at Lord’s in the second Test. When England were staring down the barrel in Leeds, bowled out for spit and with Jofra Archer out of the attack with cramp, Stokes took it upon himself to bowl 24.2 overs virtually unchanged, uphill, from the Football Stand End.
“My wife found me in my boxers, eating pasta,” said Stokes of the evening that separated the two halves of his epic spell.
Back in the middle on Saturday night, Stokes dug his trench to make sure he was still there on Sunday. Only two runs from 50 deliveries.
A “knock-off Nando’s and two bars of Yorkie Raisin and Biscuit” were the fuel for one of the greatest innings ever played by an England Test batsman.
As Stokes set his stall out on Sunday morning, the stoicism continued. Three runs off 73 balls, 51 from 152 and a blow to the head to boot.
When the time came, the switch was flicked. Nathan Lyon audaciously reverse-swept into the Western Terrace, Pat Cummins ramped over the shoulder as if he were a club trundler. Josh Hazlewood, a metronome in human form and with nine previous wickets in the match, belted for 19 runs in one over.
All of this with the help of Jack Leach, who looks less like a cricketer and more like Alan from accounting.
Yes, Leach does have a Test 92 to his name, but when he prepared to face up to Australia’s fearsome pace bowlers by cleaning the steam from his glasses, it is little surprise that Stokes couldn’t bring himself to watch the deliveries that followed.
And if this truly was one of the greatest matches played, then it also gave a nod to England’s other classics. A compilation, if you will.
Stokes being dropped by diving third man Marcus Harris was a carbon copy of Simon Jones at Edgbaston in 2005.
Leach’s aberration to almost be run out was an impression of Monty Panesar leaping for his ground as he tried to save the Test against New Zealand in Auckland in 2013.
Seeing Leach face up to Cummins brought back memories of James Anderson trying to repel Sri Lanka on this ground in 2014, falling two balls short, then crying in the post-match presentation.
And there was an injustice, Stokes not given lbw to Lyon with only two to win. But whereas we felt sympathy for New Zealand and their World Cup misery, this was Australia and it was OK for them to be on the wrong end of a raw one.
After his knock in the World Cup final, Stokes’ team-mates spoke of a look in his eyes and an unwillingness to speak, such was his focus.
At Headingley, he did not raise his bat when he reached 50 or 100, so insignificant were the milestones to the job in hand.
Only when he cut Cummins through the covers for the winning runs was the emotion released in a back-arched, both-fists-in-the-air guttural roar.
He sank to his haunches, then slowly dragged himself off the field, carried by the wave of delight from all around, pausing on the boundary edge to take it all in before returning to the dressing room for the kind of welcome he last received in mid-July.
The hope is that this is not a one-hit wonder, but part of a seminal Ashes album, one which delivers more great tracks at Old Trafford and The Oval.
Steve Smith and James Anderson will return, but the inescapable feeling is that the summer belongs to Stokes.
In 1981, after Botham at Headingley, Australia did not win another match. Ditto for 2005 after Flintoff and Edgbaston.
Even if Stokes fails to fire again in this series, it may be that the impact of what he has done here has reversed the momentum for good.