Britain's Anthony Yarde fell short in his first world title bout, losing via 11th round KO.
Sergey Kovalev reaffirmed his status as one of the best light heavyweights in the world by knocking out Britain's Anthony Yarde in an action-packed contest in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Yarde gave the champion a scare in the 8th round with a barrage of punches that almost caused trainer Buddy McGirt to withdraw his man from the fight. But sadly it wasn't to be for the Hackney fighter, that valiant effort draining Yarde of what little energy he had left, allowing the wily Russian to recover and send the exhausted challenger to the canvas for the first and only time.
If Yarde was nervous about fighting for his first world title in the champion's backyard, he didn't show it during his ring walk, sauntering to the ring with the unflappable confidence of Apollo Creed.
He didn't show it in the first round either, immediately looking to counter Kovalev's piston-like jab with a check left hook. Kovalev outworked the challenger in the second, again working behind his reliable jab, but Yarde would answer back in the third, showing some variety of his own and landing to the body.
The action picked up in the fifth, with Yarde looking to be explosive, but the 36-year-old Kovalev returned the favour by hitting the younger man with combinations and some more stiff jabs as Yarde seemed to fade.
The sixth round would follow the same pattern, with Yarde again breathing heavily and taking more jabs to the face.
But the Brit dug deep in the seventh and found some reserves, going to the body of Kovalev, a tactic used heavily by Andre Ward in his second victory over the Russian.
Then came the eighth. After initially following the pattern of the previous rounds, seemingly out of nowhere Yarde unleashed a barrage of punches that had Kovalev hanging on by the skin of his teeth and the referee looking on with concern.
After Kovalev held on to survive the challenger's onslaught, the Russian's trainer, Buddy McGirt, understandably cautious after the death of his fighter Maxim Dadashev, told Kovalev he had one more round and if he took any more punishment he would stop the fight.
Kovalev listened. With Yarde completely drained after his enormous effort, Kovalev again began to dominate. He resumed peppering Yarde with jabs and combinations until the Brit could no longer stand, falling to the canvas in the 11th after giving all he could muster.
Speaking after the fight, a positive Yarde said: "I hurt him to the body, I thought I should go for it and my corner said so, so we went for it.
"I am not ashamed or embarrassed, I am ambitious and trying to motivate people to go for what you want.
"I have done myself justice, even coming out here - 99% of people would not have dared to do what I did. Experience played a big part, he paced himself better."
Despite not bringing the belt back to the UK, Yarde proved he can mix it with the best the light heavyweight division has to offer. If he can overcome his apparent stamina issues, he will no doubt come again.