OTABEK KHOLMATOV cemented a crack at the WBA featherweight title by crushing Thomas Patrick Ward inside five rounds in Newcastle.
The big-punching Uzbek, known as Bruce Lee, dropped the previously undefeated Ward twice before ending the fight with two seconds left in the fifth.
Kholmatov arrived in the north east of England at 10-0 with 9 KOs and a big reputation and he lived up to it with his performance in this final eliminator for the WBA title.
That belt is currently held by Mexican puncher Mauricio Lara and the prospect of him facing off with Kholmatov is a mouth-watering one.
The southpaw set about Ward, who was 33-0-1, almost from the off and he had him down in the final minute of the first when he followed up a stiff jab with a double left hook.
It was a heavy knockdown but Ward somehow scrambled to his feet and made it to the end of the round despite more heavy fire from the visitor.
He actually regrouped well in the second and began to land some shots of his own but they did not appear to put a dent in the Florida-based Uzbek.
Ward started the third well too, but Kholmatov began to crank up the pressure in the last minute of the round and Ward found himself in a second crisis, although he managed to stay on his feet this time. A pair of cuts above his left eye were testament to the pressure he was under by now.
He was down again with 30 seconds left of the fourth when Kholmatov opened him up with a series of left uppercuts before a cuffing right hook, which landed on the back of Ward’s head, sent him to his knees.
Again the Englishman dug deep and ended the round on the front foot, in search of an unlikely finish of his own. But despite putting everything into his shots, Ward was simply unable to keep Kholmatov off him.
It was the right hook that finally finished him off, after 2:58 of round five, and although it did not look like he would beat the count, the towel had already come in from his corner.
Earlier at the Newcastle arena, Former bantamweight contender Lee McGregor drew a line under more than 12 months out of the ring with a comfortable decision against Alexis Kabore over eight rounds.
McGregor has not boxed since he drew with Diego Alberto Ruiz at York Hall in February of last year and the absence has badly damaged his burgeoning reputation as one of Britain’s most exciting talents.
He won British, Commonwealth and European titles at bantamweight and is expected to campaign at super-bantam now, although he weighed in at 132lbs for this one.
He boxed well en route to a 79-74 decision over eight and is expected to be out again reasonably quickly as he attempts to reclimb the rankings.