Boxing: Woods fends off the challenge of Johnson

Fairytale ending for Britain's Cinderella Man after harsh battle against the fighter he could not beat
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Clinton Woods, who likes to be known as the Cinderella man of British boxing, continues to ride in the golden coach he climbed aboard two years ago when he acquired the International Boxing Federation world light-heavyweight title, successfully defending it last night against an opponent he had twice previously failed to beat.

He won on a split decision in a terrific scrap with the 37-year-old US-based Jamaican veteran Glen Johnson, thus setting up a potential clash with the world super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe - but first the boxing politics surrounding such a meeting will need to be sorted.

Yet at one stage in this pulsating bout, Woods's golden coach might have turned into a pumpkin. In the ninth round he may well have come close to being stopped, reeling on the ropes from a fusillade of punches, looking hurt and dazed.

But he rallied to finish the fresher of the two and snatch the decision, with judges from the US and Puerto Rico voting for him. British judge Mickey Vann, a Yorkshireman like Woods, scored it in Johnson's favour. The judges' round margins varied from three to four. I made Woods the winner by just one round in a hard, intense contest that was more a battle of wills than skills.

Perhaps it was the talisman of Ricky Hatton, his new stablemate, in his corner which helped carry Woods through to the most compelling victory of his career. He showed that he has grown not only in confidence but stature since previously losing and drawing against Johnson before becoming champion himself.

This was his third defence of the IBF title, and unquestionably his hardest, though he said: "Never for one moment did I think Johnson would beat me this time.'' However, on last night's evidence, Calzaghe, who was at ringside, would not seem to have too much difficulty against a man whose repertoire is more limited - that is, if the match can ever be made.

Calzaghe said: "It's a fight the country deserves and it should happen. But on what I saw tonight I'd stop both of them.'' Woods, who says he has always admired Calzaghe, though he has never spoken to him, says he would be happy to fight him, but points out that there are rich pickings to be made elsewhere.

Johnson was almost down himself in the 11th round and it was Woods' fighting finish, drawing foot-stamping approval from the 7,000 capacity crowd, that probably earned him the verdict.

The Bolton Wanderer was back in his hometown arena for his ninth pro fight but it was a fleeting visit. Amir Khan had the second quickest victory of his career, stopping 23-year-old Ryan Barrett after 1min 51sec of the first round. The London southpaw, rated as Amir's most credible opponent to date, was on the floor three times, never fully recovering from the first knockdown, a straight right.

After two further blistering assaults, referee Bill Edwards stepped in to signal the Olympic silver medallist's most impressive win yet. Barrett, the 11th ranked British lightweight, had won nine of his last 10 contests and had never been floored or stopped. He ran into a whirlwind.

Amir had been almost as overwhelming an odds-on favourite with the bookies for this victory as England had been to beat Andorra just down the road at Old Trafford. He now takes a rest for Ramadan and to launch his autobiography. When he returns in a couple of months it is likely to be over eight rounds with his 20th birthday looming in December, and a title fight of some description in the offing.

Hatton was on hand to witness one of the belts he has vacated - the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title - strapped around the waist of France's Soulemane Mbaye, who stopped the Argentinian Raul Balbi after two minutes 14 seconds of the fourth round. Balbi had twice been floored and was on the receiving end of a skilled display from Mbaye.

Flyweight Don Broadhurst, the only member of England's gold medal-winning Commonwealth Games team to turn pro, made his paid debut with a competent four-round points win over Delroy Spencer.