Oleksandr Usyk knocked out Daniel Dubois in the ninth round on an emotional night in front of thousands of his Ukrainian fans in Wroclaw, Poland, on Saturday.
Usyk forced a knockdown in the eighth round and then finished Dubois in the ninth to finish the second defense of his WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles at the Stadion Wroclaw.
But the fight did not end without controversy.
Fighting for the first time since last August, Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) dominated his challenger but was given a painful scare in the fifth round when he was dropped with what Dubois and his team felt was a legitimate body shot. However, referee Luis Pabon ruled it a low blow. No count was given, and Usyk was allowed time to recover before the fight resumed.
Dubois and his team said they plan to appeal and push for a rematch.
"I didn't think it was a low blow, and I've been cheated out of victory," Dubois said.
Said promoter Frank Warren: "If it was a low blow, why didn't he take a point off Daniel? It was a hometown decision. How can you not order a rematch on the strength of that? We will appeal what went on here."
Usyk, 36, from Crimea in Ukraine, scored his fifth win over an English boxer in a world title fight following triumphs over Anthony Joshua (twice), Derek Chisora and Tony Bellew before beating Dubois, from Greenwich in south London.
Usyk now hopes to face another Englishman, WBC titleholder Tyson Fury, in a showdown to crown an undisputed world heavyweight champion in 2024.
"I'm ready tomorrow for Tyson Fury," Usyk said after beating Dubois. "I'm ready next fight to fight Tyson Fury, but Tyson Fury, I have no idea."
The Polish city of Wroclaw has a large Ukrainian population, and with Ukraine at war with Russia and unable to stage international sports events, this was about as close as it could get for a home title defense for Usyk.
"I'm grateful for my family and the Ukrainian army," Usyk said in his postfight interview.
Usyk, who has spent time on the front line with Ukrainian soldiers, made his ring entrance after a video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was played at the stadium.
Dubois has impressive power, but he looked vulnerable in his most recent fights, including a stoppage loss to Joe Joyce in 2020 and a tough third-round win over Kevin Lerena in December in which he was floored three times before recovering.
On Saturday, Usyk's southpaw skills, liquid movement and ring intelligence were just too much for Dubois (19-2, 18 KOs), 26, to contain in the early rounds.
Dubois was caught by a few stiff southpaw jabs in the opening round of his first world title fight, and in the second, Usyk landed two left hands on his challenger.
But Dubois was not overwhelmed early on and managed to land a right uppercut to the body.
Usyk was intense, and as the rain came down at the outdoor stadium, his punches flowed more freely.
The champion was well in control, but early in the fifth round, he was sunk to the canvas by what Pabon judged was an illegal low blow. The right hand looked borderline, and it left Usyk in pain on the canvas. Pabon gave Usyk a few minutes to recover, and when the fight did resume, Usyk took a minute before getting back into his groove.
Dubois landed a left hook to the body in the sixth round and caught Usyk on the bell as his confidence grew.
But Usyk went on the attack in the seventh round and tried to force the knockout with a series of left hands that left Dubois looking groggy.
In the eighth round, Dubois was doing well until Usyk spotted an opportunity on the counter and landed four punches to the top of the head that dropped the challenger to his knees. Dubois got up at the count of nine and was then rescued by the bell.
Usyk sensed the knockout was close and did not allow Dubois to land another punch. Just 48 seconds into the ninth round, Usyk finished Dubois when he leaped into a short, straight right that sent the challenger to the canvas and he was counted out.
On the undercard in Wroclaw, Aadam Hamed, the son of "Prince" Naseem Hamed, who ruled as world featherweight champion in the 1990s, had a quick professional debut, stopping Vojtech Hrdy in the first round of a super lightweight bout.