Anthony Joshua endured a frustrating night before eventually stopping Carlos Takam and defending his IBF and WBA heavyweight titles in 10 rounds in Cardiff.
In his first fight since ending the career of the great and once-dominant Wladimir Klitschko, 28-year-old Joshua required his advantages in size, speed and power to gradually wear down his previously little-known opponent from France.
Bigger fights against superior opponents are expected to follow in 2018 – but in defeating his mandatory challenger and excluding that with Klitschko, the Briton unexpectedly faced the toughest match-up of his career.
36-year-old Takam, who replaced the injured Kubrat Pulev just 12 days ago, put on an impressive display in Wales – and Joshua was full of praise for his opponent.
“First and foremost, Cardiff thank you for coming out this evening,” said Joshua, speaking to Sky Sports after the fight.
“Takam, it was a pleasure. I come to fight, I don’t sit on the edge and make decisions. It was a good fight until the ref stopped it, so I have the utmost respect for Takam.
“I have no interest in what is going on with the officials, that’s not my job. I think people want to see Takam unconscious on the floor, and that’s what I was trying to get to.”
Joshua appeared to sustain a broken nose during the second round after a clash of heads, and the Brit admitted he had to stay focus after that early blow.
“I had to keep my cool,” he continued. “I’ve got a few months to heal it up. I’ll go and see some good doctors to crack it back in place.
“If I showed any signs of weakness, the ref could have jumped in. That’s what he (Takam) tried to do, but the ref stopped it.
“I want to continue to grow the sport of boxing and everyone knows where we’re heading.”
As for Takam, who cleary one the hearts and minds in Cardiff, the Cameroonian-French boxer was left to ponder what could have been after the fight was stopped in the tenth.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, when asked whether the fight should have been stopped early. “I don’t know why the referee stopped the match. I respect the champion and the UK fans, they are great fans and I am happy to box here. I don’t why they stopped it.
“I want a rematch, I make my preparations with 12 days to fight Anthony. I want a rematch, I want to box him again, I want him, he is a great champion.”