Joe Kordina captured the IBF super-featherweight title with a thrilling split decision victory over Shavkat Rakhimov at the Cardiff International Arena.
Kordina, 31, pulled out of the belt due to injury last year to become the first Welsh boxer to become a two-time world champion, but was made to dig deep in a classic encounter in front of her home fans.
One of the judges’ score cards had Rakhimov as the 116–111 winner, while two others ruled Kordina with scores of 115–112 and 114–113.
Now undefeated in 16 professional bouts, Kordina sent Rakhimov to the canvas in the second round and, after injuring himself badly in the fifth, put a stunning finish in the final round to shore up a classic.
The 28-year-old Rakhimov from Tajikistan, who had won 17 and drawn one of his last 18 bouts, was unrelenting despite fighting through the sixth round with a bandaged right eye.
The champion landed a higher volume of punches in her first title defense since winning the belt last November by stopping Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett, but Cordina produced more accurate, quality shots.
Kordina displayed great footwork in the opening round and the champion forced the issue, but in the second the Welshman cut loose, sending the champion to the canvas with a shivering left hook.
Rakhimov beat the count and despite looking unsteady on his feet, he came back with consecutive right uppercuts and left-hook combinations and shocked the challenger with a solid right.
Both boxers kept a fast pace. Kordina caught Rakhimov with a left hook in the fourth round, but found himself in trouble in the fifth round after being stunned by a right jab.
Rakhimov, fully recovered from his knockdown, remained on the offensive in the sixth, but was hampered by a badly swollen right eye and hurt again by a combination from Cordina.
The champion’s knees were bent again in the 10th, but he showed tremendous determination to put Kordina on the backfoot, but the British fighter landed more punishing blows in the final round.
Kordina, who is now undefeated in 16 professional bouts, first won the title in Cardiff last June when he knocked out Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa in the second round at the Motorpoint Arena.
He was scheduled to defend his title against mandatory IBF challenger Rakhimov in November, but was forced to pull out due to an arm injury and was subsequently stripped of his belt.