Amir Khan produced the most stunning performance of his young career to retain his World Boxing Association light-welterweight title in just 76 seconds here at the Metro Radio Arena last night.
His mandatory challenger, Dmitriy Salita, literally never knew what hit him, hammered to the floor three times in the opening round and beaten for the first time in 32 contests.
The echoes of the opening bell had barely died away before Khan sent him crashing with a sweetly delivered right to the jaw. He rose pale and shaken to take a statutory eight-count before Khan pounced again, pummelling him to one knee in the neutral corner before he was hauled off by Puerto Rican referee Luis Pablon.
Again, the Ukrainian emigre from Brooklyn got to his feet only to be chased across the ring and sent flying into the ropes with a left hook which prompted the referee to step in and save him from what would have been further savage humiliation.
Stunning indeed, and no one was more stunned than Salita, the 27-year-old who on paper was due to present Khan with the most exacting examination since the former Olympic silver medallist was himself flattened by Breidis Prescott last year. Khan did to Salita what Prescott did to him, showing how much he has improved and how his skills and speed have been honed in Los Angeles under the tutelage of Freddie Roach.
"Very explosive," said Khan. "It was just what we asked for. We had too much firepower for this guy. After the first shot I could see his legs buckling." He went on to thank Roach for helping to get his career back on track. "Freddie is like a father figure to me and just having him in the corner gives me so much confidence."
He added: "It was a blessing in disguise what happened to me against Prescott. I've come back stronger and now I'm a world champion and a world champion defender." Khan, who will be 23 on Tuesday, showed how far he has leapt beyond his boxing adolescence. These were fists of fury which landed cleanly and precisely.
If there was any doubt about the reaction Khan would receive from the capacity crowd of 10,000 after his comments that he was disturbed by what he felt was a racist attitude in this country, it was clear from the reception he received that he is indeed a genuine sporting hero.
Earlier, London's Kevin Mitchell had shown the way to beat Prescott, the Colombian whose first-round fusillade had brought that embarrassing blip to Khan's career 15 months ago.
The 25-year-old won by taking Khan's advice to duck, dive and keep his chin out of the way, frustrating the six-footer who towered over him and came into the ring looking like a middleweight.
The onlooking David Haye would have approved of Mitchell's technique of skipping in then skipping out, exposing Prescott as more of a crude clubber than the ogre who dismantled Khan.
Mitchell won a unanimous 12-round decision, all three ringside judges scoring heavily in his favour overthe length of this eliminator for the World Boxing Organisation lightweight title. It was a contest of fiery spats and venomous exchanges both verbal and fistic, but Mitchell, now unbeaten in 30 bouts, boxed with intelligence and calmness.
Prescott, who had won on a disqualification and lost in another bout since defeating Khan 15 months ago, flung his best shots but they were wild, Mitchell managing to contain them and score with his own countering in the finest display of his career.
Britain's trio of Olympians, James DeGale, Frankie Gavin and Billy Jo Saunders, all came through their respective fifth professional bouts with convincing victories against reasonably experienced opponents.
The most impressive was Khan's old amateur spar mate Gavin, who continued his series of inside-the-distance wins by stopping Frenchman Samir Tergaoui with just nine seconds of the last round remaining in his first six-rounder. The Birmingham welterweight, a former World Amateur champion, put Tergaoui down in the sixth for an eight count before forcing the referee's intervention with Tergaoui on the ropes suffering a barrage of well-directed punches.
DeGale, the Beijing middleweight gold medallist, could not put Welsh opponent Nathan King away and won by a 40-37 points margin after four rounds, the second time he has been taken the distance. Fellow southpaw Saunders needed all six rounds of his middleweight contest to outpoint Lee Noble of Barnsley 60-55. The Hatfield fighter found Noble lively opposition but was always in control, though it was disappointing he could not find the sort of finish that Gavin found.