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Robert McCracken had to battle to win a Lonsdale Belt outright at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre last night, edging his local rival, Paul Wesley, by half a point after 12 gruelling rounds to retain his British light- middleweight title.

McCracken finally held off Wesley's spirited challenge in the last round to be awarded the verdict by 117.5 points to 117. It was desperately close throughout, and McCracken's future in the 11 stone division could now be limited. He had to work extra hard to make the weight and may now move up to full middleweight to continue his career in a more fashionable division.

Wesley had not fought for a year, and had won only six of his previous 20 bouts, so McCracken was not expected to be extended in his second defence. However, the 25-year-old champion is not as strong as he once was at the weight, and Wesley took every opportunity to target the taller man's body.

McCracken was clearly hurt in the fourth by two rights to the side of the head as the fight warmed up. Wesley, himself, had been troubled by a viral problem and looked to be running out of steam in the sixth, but he found a second wind and never allowed the champion a moment to compose himself.

It was an absorbing rather than outstanding contest - and importantly was fought out in a noisy, but ordery atmosphere.

Extra security had been provided to deal with any crowd problems, because McCracken's last title bout against Steve Foster set off a riot in Birmingham last September.