Amir Khan took a huge step towards a world title shot with an excellent fifth-round technical decision win over bloodied legend Marco Antonio Barrera last night.
Khan, 22, was back at Manchester's MEN Arena seeking to overcome the heartache of last September's defeat by Breidis Prescott at the same venue.
He did that in style, comfortably out-boxing the Mexican before a cut suffered in the first round eventually brought the end in the fifth after going to the scorecards.
The 2004 Olympic silver medalist was destroyed inside a minute by Colombian Prescott having previously built an 18-fight unbeaten record.
He returned to the ring with an easy win over Oisin Fagan in December but faced a major step up in class against former three-weight world champion Barrera tonight.
Promoter Frank Warren was hoping the fight would double as a final eliminator for Juan Manuel Marquez's WBO lightweight title.
Pre-fight odds had the two relatively even despite suspicions about Khan's chin and Barrera's exceptional pedigree.
Despite being far from home, Barrera received a rapturous reception from the British crowd while Khan was amazingly booed by some.
Khan boasted a significant height and reach advantage over his naturally smaller opponent as they squared up before the opening bell.
Khan began the first round measured without being negative and was firing off lightning-quick volleys.
Two excellent right hands landed and Barrera also found the target occasionally without hurting his man.
But Barrera had suffered a cut as he took several hard left hooks and a decent right and ended the round with a bad gash over his left eye - close to an old wound suffered in his last fight.
Concerns about the injury proved to be well-founded as blood streamed down his face in the second round.
In the third Khan took some decent shots to head and body and did not seem overly concerned with protecting a supposedly weak chin.
Barrera could only really see from one eye, however, and his night's work was made more difficult by Khan's excellent boxing.
Khan boxed, moved and showboated before landing another flurry which rocked Barrera back.
Referee Dave Parris interrupted the fourth round to have Barrera's cut looked at by the ringside doctor and despite the severity of the injury, the fight carried on.
Khan's skilful counter-punching was breaking Barrera's huge heart, evading the Mexican's attacks and landing hurtful left hooks and straight rights in return.
Again Parris paused the action in the fifth to have the cut looked at and this time, with blood literally coursing down his face, the end finally came.
To the surprise of many ringside the cut was ruled an accidental clash so the fight went to the scorecards, with the classy Khan winning by 50-44 and 50-45 twice.
Earlier tonight on a bad night for British boxing two Welshmen and an Englishman lost their titles.
Welsh cruiserweight Enzo Maccarinelli was stunned by a spectacular ninth-round knockout at the hands of unknown Ola Afolabi.
Maccarinelli was bidding to win the WBO interim cruiserweight title as he attempted to rebuild following a second-round destruction by David Haye last year.
But London-born American Afolabi produced a major shock with a crashing overhand right in the ninth round, which left Maccarinelli on the floor and senseless before referee Terry O'Connor called an end to the bout.
Also in Manchester, Nicky Cook's first defence of the WBO super-featherweight title ended in a fourth-round knockout defeat against unbeaten Puerto Rican Roman Martinez.
Welshman Bradley Pryce lost his Commonwealth light-middleweight title with a hurtful second-round knockout by Matthew Hall.
Khan later told BBC Radio 'Five Live': "I felt so completely easy, catching him with jabs. I felt like I was on a better level than him.
"The jabbing and patience - I felt so strong. You could see the difference.
"I had to take some shots in that match. I made some mistakes in the past and I'm not going to make them again."
Khan admitted: "This was a make or break fight for Amir Khan."
Warren insisted Khan would be a world champion by the end of 2009.
He said: "There was a lot on his shoulders but I always felt he could rise to the big occasion and he did tonight.
"I'd like to get it (a world title) done this year. I'd like to see him get a belt round his waist by the end of this year."
Barrera's promoter Don King added: "I thought Amir Khan performed fantastically.
"He was very fast and agile. You can't take anything away from his performance and he deserves the victory.
"He's got a great future ahead of him if he fights with the jab like he did tonight."