It is not often that a performance by a young British boxer with less than 10 fights stuns everybody but that happened on Saturday at the Echo Arena when James DeGale forced the referee to rescue Paul Smith in round nine.
DeGale is just 24, the same age as his great friend Amir Khan, and after just eight fights he produced a flawless, punch-perfect performance at the Liverpool venue to break Smith's spirit, cut him in several places, hurt him on occasion and take his British super-middleweight title.
Smith, 28, a seasoned veteran with just one defeat in 30 fights before DeGale, was as stunned in the fight's aftermath as he was during the one-sided rounds. "I just couldn't get started. He's hard to hit. I couldn't see the punches," Smith said in his changing room, his face a web of stitches, dark bruises and hard lumps.
"I knew that I would perform better when I met better fighters," insisted DeGale, who won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing. "This is the start – the European title by the end of next year and then on for a world title in a division with some great fighters. Well, I'm coming." He certainly is and on Saturday's performance he is not far away from moving to real world-class.
It was, though, not such a glorious night for the normally impressive Nathan Cleverly in his interim World Boxing Organisation light-heavyweight title fight against the tricky and reluctant Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi, who came in at three days' notice.
Cleverly, 23, tried too hard at times and fell asleep at other times but floated through 12 uninspiring and odd rounds to win the fight on points. Cleverly, usually such an articulate performer on both sides of the ropes, was lost for an excuse to explain his bewildering show. He will, by the way, find out today if he is upgraded from interim to full WBO champion when the current incumbent, Jürgen Brähmer, will discover if his appeal against a custodial sentence has been successful.
There was also an unexpectedly hard night's work for European middleweight champion Matt Macklin in his defence against Spain's Ruben Varon. Macklin, who had a bad cold and should have pulled out, was a 50-1 odds-on bet before the first bell but finished with both eyes cut and closing to keep his title quite comfortably on points. "Have you ever seen a winner look like this?" joked Macklin, who needs and deserves a world title fight soon.Reuse content