Anthony Joshua cleared the way to a new year showdown with Wladimir Klitschko after dispatching American Eric Molina in the third round to retain his IBF heavyweight title in Manchester.
Watched by Klitschko at ringside, Joshua patiently set about dismantling his opponent before delivering the decisive blow with a stunning right hand which dumped Molina to the canvas.
The game Molina clambered to his feet but moments later referee Steve Gray stepped in to save him further punishment, completing another hugely convincing win for the 2012 Olympic champion.
Klitschko's presence was a stark reminder that sterner tests await Joshua than the one presented by the 34-year-old Texan schoolteacher, whose chief qualification for such a steep assignment was the nine rounds he lasted against WBC champion Deontay Wilder last year.
Nevertheless with a prospective Wembley Stadium clash with the Ukrainian hanging in the balance, not to mention the former champion looking on, Joshua entered the ring with plenty of pressure on his shoulders and a necessity to perform.
For all the modesty of Molina's record, he came to England having sought the advice of Oliver McCall, who famously ripped the WBC heavyweight title from Lennox Lewis in a stunning upset in London in 1994.
Accepting he needed a similar one-punch shocker to stand any chance of seizing his unlikely world title chance, Molina stated his intention to go for broke but in truth he was barely able to throw a shot as Joshua set about patiently exposing the gulf in class from the opening bell.
And the four knockdowns suffered in the course of his challenge to Wilder always made it much more likely Molina would quickly go the same way as Joshua's two previous world title victims, Charles Martin and Dominic Breazeale.
A swatting left hand was all Joshua needed to deliver in the opening round to question Molina's intent, and Joshua continued to probe patiently in the second, unloading a left uppercut which further challenged his opponent's resolve.
By the third it was clear Molina was fighting on borrowed time as Joshua pursued him around the ring with almost casual disdain, before crunching home the right hand which dumped Molina to the canvas in his own corner.
It said much about Molina's fighting heart that he should manage to climb to his feet at the count of eight, but it merely prolonged the inevitable and as Joshua poured in shots with either hand at the restart, Gray wisely called the contest off at two minutes and two seconds of the round.
It was a clear statement of intent by Joshua, who pointedly glared at ringside rival David Haye during his moment of victory, and will surely have convinced Klitschko that he will pose him a significant threat when their seemingly inevitable meeting is finally sealed for April.
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