Joseph Parker was knocked down for the first time in his career as Dillian Whyte won their enthralling high-stakes heavyweight fight via unanimous decision after a dramatic final round in London on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).
Victory catapults Whyte back into contention for a rematch with Anthony Joshua and a world title shot.
Defeat for Parker means he slips out out of the world title conversation among a throng of strong heavyweights, but such a brilliant contest may lead to a rematch.
Parker, the former WBO champion, was down in the second round for the first time in his career after a clash of heads and veteran British referee Ian John-Lewis was counting, but the Kiwi seemed undeterred after quickly regaining his feet from falling to his knees.
Whyte would take control with his aggressive approach and later send Parker to the canvas again with a huge left hand in the ninth round.
Parker was desperate at the death, and Whyte was wobbling in the 12th round before he was sensationally knocked down by Parker in the last minute, but the British fighter grimly hung on.
Whyte won via unanimous decision after the judges scored the fight 113-112, 115-110, 114-111 in his favour.
On the 30-year-old Whyte’s home turf, Parker, 26, entered London’s sold out 02 Arena to a chorus of boos before a largely vociferous British crowd roared their man into the ring.
The two fighters had near identical records – Parker (24-1) and Whyte (23-1) – as the bell rang and the New Zealander started on the front foot.
Whyte was forced into one notable swing that missed as Parker landed more powerful punches in round one.
But Whyte then stepped up to fire a flurry of testing heavier shots and Parker went down in the second after their heads collided.
Seeing Parker down seemed to lift Whyte and ‘The Body Snatcher’ was menacingly growing with ferocity.
Whyte then revved up the rough stuff and started brawling Parker, who was trading blows well but looked a little vulnerable to the Brit’s aggressive counters.
Parker was struggling to gain any dominance in a tight fight, but Whyte was delivering the bigger blows and really testing the Kiwi’s chin as the two began to show the first signs of tiring in the seventh round.
As Whyte grew in confidence, Parker was on the back foot and becoming increasingly desperate to land a knockout blow as the scorecard looked against him.
A crisp, powerful left hook then knocked Parker down for the second time in the fight in the ninth and he somehow survived the round after Whyte’s massive shot.
Parker came through the 10th but needed something spectacular to take victory from Whyte, who maintained his physical approach but with more control despite continued complaints from Parker’s corner.
Whyte was tired, though, and showed some vulnerability as Parker forced him to the ropes, but the bell ended his brief barrage of stinging punches in the 11th.
Both were out on their feet in the closing stages and Parker needed to knock Whyte out in the last round.
Whyte was all over the place, exhausted, and went down after Parker landed some late final blows to come awfully close to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
But Whyte survived as Parker’s late assault was too little, too late.
Parker’s pro boxing record is now 24-2 (18 KOs).