Jorge Linares beat Anthony Crolla by unanimous decision for the second time in six months to keep the WBA lightweight title on Saturday.
Linares gave Crolla a rematch in the same Manchester Arena before Crolla’s supporters, and the Venezuelan proved superior again to all three judges, who each scored it 118-109.
Linares even knocked down Crolla in the seventh round.
Having relieving Crolla of the title in September, Linares improved his record to 42-3 (27 KOs). He hasn’t lost in five years. Crolla dropped to 31-6-3.
The scorecards were wider than when the pair first met last September but this was a superior performance from the classy Linares, who could next take on WBC champion Mikey Garcia in a mouthwatering unification title fight.
Liners produced arguably the performance of his career in extending his winning sequence to 11 fights, with Crolla left chasing shadows in some instances.
Defeat should not spell the end of the road for Crolla, who proved his battling spirit once again but ultimately went home empty handed. Crolla acknowledged he would have to produce the best performance of his career to regain the title he lost to Linares.
The pair engaged in a thrilling contest last September and the second contest was widely expected to follow the first, with Linares a big favourite.
Linares showed his superior speed from the off and was the busier fighter with several handsome combinations finding their mark.
Crolla was boxing behind a high guard and although he had his moments with a couple of jabs, it was the champion’s blurring hand speed that was beginning to tell.
The 30-year-old Crolla landed a ramrod jab in the fourth that jolted Linares’ head back but his opponent immediately responded with a four-punch combination.
A tremendous right uppercut sent Crolla reeling in the fifth and a cut was opened over the challenger’s left eye in the sixth following another accurate right hand.
A thunderous left uppercut in the following round sent Crolla to one knee, but the Mancunian, rallied by a fevered crowd, got to his feet and weathered the storm as Linares sought a knockout.
Incredibly, Crolla had his best moments in the following two rounds, closing the gap and forcing Linares on to the back foot. The ninth round, in particular, saw the two slug it out in several toe-to-toe exchanges.
Crolla kept coming forward in the 11th but Linares followed up a vicious overhand right with a spiteful uppercut.
A scrappy 12th ensued but Linares finished the stronger.
Crolla held his hands up and paid tribute to his conqueror. “Jorge Linares is a great fighter and a great champion,” Crolla said in the ring.
“He’s proved that again tonight. Manchester I’m so sorry I couldn’t do it for you.
“He caught me with a great shot. Before that I was trying to close the distance and I thought that I was going to get to him but he moved very well. I can say I got beat off the better man. No excuses.”
Linares, through a translator, hailed his opponent’s bravery.
He said: “I want to tell everyone in Manchester, Anthony Crolla has some big balls. He had a lot of heart and that’s why he made it to the 12th round with me.
“Anthony and I are both warriors and we fight our hearts out for you.”
Crolla added that another defeat did not mean his career was over.
“I’m 30-years-old and I’m just going to rest,” he said. “I’ve had some tough fights but I believe I can come again.
“I lost to a very good fighter tonight. I’m going to go away and spend some time with family and friends, rebuild and take it from there.”
On the undercard, London 2012 gold medallist Katie Taylor improved her professional record to 4-0 in a routine points victory over Milena Koleva.
The 30-year-old from Ireland, fighting for the second time this month, knocked her Bulgarian opponent down in the seventh and penultimate round en route.