Fabio Wardley retained his British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles after battling to a draw over 12 bruising rounds with Frazer Clarke at The O2 Arena in London.

After knocking his rival down at the conclusion of the fifth round and watching him deducted a point for a low blow in the seventh, Wardley appeared on course for his biggest victory.

Clarke, 32, instead admirably fought back and to the extent he perhaps even deserved the decision, as the judges’ scores of 114-113 for Wardley, 115-112 for Clarke and 113-113 hinted.

The Olympic bronze medallist was impressive throughout the opening rounds, when for all of Wardley’s superior experience as a professional he often made Wardley look wild and raw. There was more variety and thought to Clarke’s output, as he showed with rights to head and body and, gradually most consistently, his jab.

They traded competitively in the second, and when Clarke again then landed to the body, Wardley, 29, punished him with a right to the head. Wardley was hurt by a right hand; Clarke was marked up under his right eye and then hurt Wardley again with a right uppercut before watching him swing and fall short with a right hand.

Further rights followed from both fighters in the third, but when Wardley attempted to advance he absorbed an uppercut, and started to bleed from his nose. If Wardley became reckless he threatened to succeed; if he didn’t, the pace at which they fought was being set by Clarke’s jab.

When the champion landed a right hand in the fourth they again traded competitively. Wardley, who had never previously gone beyond seven rounds, was already showing signs of fatigue in the fifth, but when he trapped Clarke towards the ropes he again let his hands go, and when he reached with a wild right hand he caught Clarke and knocked him down. 

Clarke met the referee Steve Gray’s count of eight and was then relieved to hear the bell that he may even reflect saved him. The perception that he was the underdog on account of Wardley’s seasoning put his encouraging start at risk, and his hopes were reduced further when after a competitive sixth round he was deducted a point when his struggles meant he resorted to a low blow.

Wardley’s recklessness, and his determination to force the stoppage, was increasingly effective, but he had become ragged and was starting to slow down. Clarke remained competitive and continued to jab him with such consistency that his nose bled increasingly heavily, and to the extent that in the 10th Gray demanded the ringside doctor examine the extent of the damage.

Lesser fighters, and perhaps wiser doctors, may have been happy for the fight to finish in that moment, but Wardley, aware that he was on course for a narrow victory, determinedly fought on.

Both fighters’ teams – Dillian Whyte, who works with Wardley, included – left their ringside seats at various points to remonstrate with Gray and to attempt to influence their fighter, but Clarke’s jab was again influential until the final bell, and to the extent he can consider himself unfortunate, having produced his finest ever performance, not to have won so entertaining a fight.