Thai dynamo Srisaket Sor Rungvisai retained his World Boxing Council title by beating challenger Juan Estrada on Saturday, holding on in the later rounds to come out with a close majority decision.
Srisaket compiled a big lead by winning almost all of the first seven rounds in the 12-round super flyweight title fight at the Los Angeles Forum.
But the hard-hitting 31-year-old couldn't get the knockout he was hoping for against the Mexican, and even looked the more tired of the two in the final round.
"Estrada was a very strong fighter," Srisaket said in the ring immediately following the decision. "I love his style. It was a tough fight."
Srisaket, who improved to 45-4-1 with 40 knockouts, won by a score of 117-111 on one judge's card. Another judge had him winning 115-113 and Las Vegas judge Dave Moretti scored it a draw, 114-114.
Still, the victory was impressive enough to validate his status as a bona fide star in the super flyweight division, especially after beating former champ Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez twice in 2017.
The pair traded heavy punches in the middle of the ring on Saturday throughout the thrilling fight, especially at the end of the first and fifth rounds. Srisaket, a southpaw, threw 879 punches overall while the challenger threw 671.
The hard-punching Srisaket built up points by dominating the early rounds of a fight that showcased their contrasting but effective boxing styles.
Estrada, a counterpuncher, served notice in the second round that he wasn't going to let Srisaket impose his will on him, by landing two solid punches near the end to win that round.
In the fourth, Srisaket landed a bomb on the nose of Estrada to send him staggering backwards toward the ropes.
Srisaket excelled through the middle rounds but something happened in the eighth that turned the momentum in Estrada's favour.
Realizing he hadn't done enough in the early rounds to win without a knockout, Estrada went to work, dancing around the ring and counterpunching effectively.
- Thai hero -
In the 12th, both fighters were tired but especially Srisaket who despite his exhaustion still flailed away with windmill punches.
This was the first fight of 2018 for the former garbage collector Srisaket after a spectacular 2017.
His two wins over Gonzalez gained him plenty of attention and respect, as his rags-to-riches story prompted comparisons to Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao.
Like Pacman and the Philippines, live broadcasts of Srisaket's fights have gripped the entire nation of Thailand.
"I was very confident of winning this fight," Srisaket said Saturday. "I wanted to bring this victory back to Thailand.
"I had the support of Thais and I am thankful to all the Thai people that came out."
On the undercard, Donnie Nietes knocked out Juan Carlos Reveco, of Argentina, in the seventh round to keep his International Boxing Federation flyweight title.
Nietes floored Reveco just 53 seconds into the round to improve to 41-1-4 with 23 career knockouts.
Nietes, of the Philippines, landed 100 punches in the fight compared to just 40 for the challenger.