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.
If the crucial question was when and not if the champion would stop his challenger, the answer was likely to come in the extent of the 36-year-old’s aggression and ambition.
Having replaced the injured Kubrat Pulev he had accepted his first world title fight at less than a fortnight’s notice, and concerns persisted that – against such a dangerous puncher – he would be content merely to survive.
In front of a world record indoor fight crowd of an estimated 76,000 under the roof at the Principality Stadium – comfortably beyond the 63,315 present when Muhammad Ali defeated Leon Spinks at the New Orleans Superdrome in 1978 – he instead largely fought to win.
Regardless, from the opening round, Joshua – who on Friday had weighed in at a career-heaviest 18st 2lbs, against his 16st 11lbs opponent – made much of his significant size advantage.
Fighting with some of the patience he had required in his first world title defence against Dominic Breazeale in 2016, he largely dominated with his concussive jab until openings emerged in the second round.
It was then that he landed his first hurtful right hands, and that Takam attempted to use his head in close, catching the champion’s nose and appearing to break it.
While in the third Joshua again edged forward and led with mixed success with his right, at its conclusion he smiled at his opponent, and thereafter showed greater aggression.
After first hurting Takam with a right uppercut and then a powerful combination, he sent the challenger to the canvas for the first time with a clubbing left.
Swelling had by then appeared by Joshua’s right eye, and a significant cut opened by Takam’s left, and to the extent that in the fifth, referee Phil Edwards asked the ringside doctor to examine Takam’s condition.
Throughout both the sixth and seventh, Joshua landed hurtful punches in bursts that Takam – having previously only been stopped by Russia’s proven Alexander Povetkin and showing impressive punch resistance – continued to take.
He then landed a left-right combination of his own, prompting Joshua to showboat. The champion’s pace then gradually slowed, perhaps even in recognition that for the first time he may have to go the 12-round distance.
When throughout the ninth Takam repeatedly dabbed at the blood by his eye that was again checked by the ringside doctors, a stoppage again appeared more likely.
It finally arrived in the 10th but to neither fighters’ nor the crowd’s true satisfaction. Another big right hand clearly hurt the challenger, who fell back under the intense pressure, and continued to take heavy punishment.
After falling against the ropes and amid his struggles to fight back, Edwards intervened to wave the action over after one minute and 34 seconds, to Takam’s anger and boos from some of those in attendance.
The reality is the decision was fair and defeat was inevitable, but 24 years after Lennox Lewis defeated Frank Bruno in Cardiff’s last world heavyweight title fight, Joshua had not made the statement he had hoped for.