Trevor Bryan was forced to fend off a stubborn challenger to retain his winning ways in his annual ring appearance.

The unbeaten heavyweight made the first defense of his secondary version of the WBA title with a twelve-round, split decision win over late substitute Jonathan ‘The King’ Guidry. Steve Weisfeld, one of the best judges in the sport, surprisingly had it 115-112 for Guidry. His card was overruled by scores of 118-109 and 116-111 for Bryan, who returned to the ring for the first time in exactly one year to earn the win Saturday evening on FIte TV Pay-Per-View from W.D. Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio.

Guidry stepped well up in competition, accepting the fight on less than one month’s notice in place of Mahmoud Charr who—for the second time in exactly one year—was unable to secure a P-1 travel visa in time to travel to the U.S. The unbeaten heavyweight from Dulac, Louisiana was originally due to face journeyman Alonzo Butler on the undercard before he agreed to fill the void in the co-feature bout. The full-time shrimp fisherman offered an honest effort, though soundly outboxed in the opening round as Bryan used his jab to dictate the pace and distance.

Action picked up in a big way in round two. Bryan continued to come forward, landing his long jab and occasional right hand. Guidry had his say for the first time in the fight after connecting with a left hook early in the round. Bryan adapted and returned to his jab along with a left hook, only to get clipped with another left hook and a right hand later in the round.

Bryan firmly regained control in round three, putting his five-inch height and reach advantage to good use against the 5’11” Guidry. Bryan landed several clean right hands down the stretch, though Guidry never showed signs of going away anytime soon.

The pair of unbeaten heavyweights went toe-to-toe in a round five that brought the crowd to its feet. Guidry stood in the pocket and traded left hooks with Bryan, who made things easy for his inexperienced challenger by not offering any head movement on the inside.

Bryan’s steady jab took its toll on Guidry, who sported a bruise and swelling under his right eye. Bryan had Guidry hurt in round seven and again late in the eighth round when it appeared that the challenger was beginning to wear down.

Guidry managed to move past that moment and draw a rise out of the crowd late in round nine. Bryan grew too comfortable, leaving himself open for a straight right hand along the ropes. The unbeaten secondary titlist took the shot well, though not to the point of being able to immediately respond.

Both heavyweights fought through fatigue in the later rounds, pushing their punches but still showing plenty of will. Bryan abandoned his jab but was able to catch Guidry with a right hand on the inside. Guidry took the shot well, responding with one of his own though with the swelling growing worse around his right eye.

In his previous appearance exactly one year ago, Bryan was able to dig deep and put away last minute substitute and former WBC heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne in the eleventh round. Guidry proved far more durable, though he was nearly done in the closing seconds of the fight. Bryan landed two left hooks to rock Guidry, followed by a series of rights along with a body shot and a left hook to force Guidry to his knees literally at the bell.

Guidry beat the count and made it to the bell, mounting a turnbuckle to the delight of the crowd. He suffers his first defeat though in a valiant effort as he falls to 17-1-2 (12KOs).

Bryan advances to 22-0 (16KOs) with the win, coming one year to the day of his last ring appearance when he claimed his secondary version of the WBA heavyweight title. As was the case Saturday evening, Bryan was forced to settle for a replacement opponent instead of Charr though it won’t be a problem moving forward.

Next up for Bryan should be a mandatory title defense versus England’s Daniel Dubois (17-1, 16KOs). It will be up to the WBA to immediately order the fight, though past efforts haven’t even aided the cause in getting Bryan’s career on track as he’s fought just three times in the past four years.

Headlining the show, Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu (28-2, 25KOs) defends his WBC cruiserweight title versus mandatory challenger Thabiso Mchunu (23-5, 13KOs). The bout is a rematch to their memorable May 2015 clash, which saw Makabu rally from behind to score a dramatic eleventh-round knockout. Makabu will attempt the first defense of his title in Saturday’s main event.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox