Anthony Crolla's second defence of his WBA lightweight title ended in a unanimous decision defeat as he was convincingly outboxed by classy Venezuelan Jorge Linares in Manchester last night.
The Manchester boxer had moments of success but, against a simply superior fighter, proved incapable of making the adaptations needed to recover from a losing position.
Victory for Linares, widely considered the world's leading lightweight, appears to have ended hopes of Crolla fighting domestic rival Terry Flanagan.
Linares spoke, however, of his willingness to give Crolla a rematch.
The competitive opening rounds did little to encourage the defending champion. His challenger had often appeared vulnerable in the early stages of fights, as he demonstrated when being knocked down by Kevin Mitchell in May 2015 before recovering to win.
Crolla had been expected to pursue him during those early rounds, but instead he chose to repeatedly target Linares' body in an attempt to tire him in preparation for the second half of the fight.
Linares' superior class, speed and accuracy ensured he at least edged the majority of the first five.
He hurt Crolla with body shots in the fourth, one of which referee Terry O'Connor considered low, halting the action to allow the champion to recover.
It was in the fifth when Crolla landed a promising right hand that opened a cut by Linares' right eye, but it took until the sixth when the challenger showed his first signs of fatigue. Just when it appeared the action would begin to favour the champion, Linares threw the fight's best punch when he landed a big right.
The injured Crolla was forced to retreat back onto the ropes, where he appeared at threat of being stopped and remained content to survive until the round concluded. Linares had expended significant energy attempting to finish the fight, so the question became whether he had used too much.
Even with his stamina depleted, however, Linares' greater technique ensured the fight's second half remained competitive, and he prevented Crolla from building the lead his work-rate sought.
His timing and jab continued to impress, even discouraging the champion, and ensured that entering the final two, Crolla appeared to need to win both to stand any chance of earning a decision from the judges.
The Mancunian, bleeding by his left eye, increasingly appeared the fighter who once looked unlikely to progress beyond domestic or European level. He was also fighting one who - even if he had never previously gone 12 rounds - is clearly world-class.
Crolla's career has already been better than many expected, but the final stages of the fight simply confirmed the suspicion that his level had been found. The exchanges he needed to change the fight continued to elude him, and ensured his defeat via scores of 115-114, 117-111, 115-113 on the three judges' scorecards.