Kubrat Pulev beat Tony Thompson on points to move a step closer to a world title shot at undisputed heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
In what was billed as a final eliminator for the IBF belt, Pulev gradually out-worked the veteran to take the decision on all three scorecards in Schwerin, Germany.
"I still have a lot of work to do as I need to get better for this challenge," said the 32-year-old, who defended his IBF International Belt against the 41-year-old man from Washington, D.C. "But I'm confident to do so. I don't care if I have to fight Klitschko or Povetkin next. The most important thing is to win that bout and become world champion!"
The Bulgarian, now 18-0, allowed the American to take the early rounds but was on top by the fifth in a rough fight often fought at close quarters.
Thompson, riding the crest of a wave after two stoppage wins over David Price this year, looked weary after a strong ninth round from his opponent and Pulev finished the fight by far the stronger.
Scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112 reflected Pulev's superiority, and he could now be in line to fight Klitschko early next year should the Ukrainian overcome Alexander Povetkin in October.
Thompson, 41, slips to 38-3 but once again proved to be a useful barometer in the heavyweight division.