MANCHESTER, England -- Josh Warrington's intense pressure and energy earned a unanimous points victory over Carl Frampton in a first defense of his IBF world featherweight title on Saturday.
The Englishman pulled off his finest triumph yet against the more experienced Frampton after dazzling him with fast bursts of punches and dominating the close-range exchanges in a fierce contest that was shown live in the U.S. on ESPN+.
Warrington won by scores of 116-113, 116-112 and 116-112 after showing tireless energy. As well as defending his IBF belt, Warrington claimed Frampton's WBO interim title.
Warrington (28-0, 6 KOs) goes from strength to strength with every fight, and this win in front of 20,000 at the Manchester Arena is expected to catapult him into a world title unification clash in 2019.
"He said to me, I hope you go forward and unify the division," Warrington said. "Frampton will go down as one of the great champions.
"I was in with a two-weight champion, I had to go in there and be clever. I've had many different game plans. There were times when I hit him with some corking shots, and he took them. He's such a hard man."
But for Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs), a second career defeat is a big setback for his hopes of becoming a three-time world champion and setting up a third encounter with Leo Santa Cruz.
"I was in incredible shape coming into this fight, but the better man won," Frampton said. "I was stronger, but Josh was stronger. He's even better than I thought. He's clever, fit and tough.
"We have a young family at home. I will sit down with my team and figure out what our next move is."
Victory settles a dispute about who is the best featherweight in Great Britain, but to be considered world No 1, Warrington will have to win at least one title unification fight against a rival world champion.
Mexican Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs), who beat Frampton almost two years ago, is WBA champion and is considered No. 1 followed by American Gary Russell Jr. (29-1, 17 KOs), the WBC titleholder, and Mexico's WBO king Óscar Valdez (24-0, 19 KOs).
Santa Cruz is due to defend his WBA belt against Miguel Flores on Feb. 16, and Valdez, who has not fought because of injury after beating Manchester's Scott Quigg in March, is a more likely fight for Warrington in 2019.
Frampton, 31, began as the betting favorite with local bookmakers, but Warrington upset the odds to beat Welshman Lee Selby in May.
Warrington won his first world title belt in front of 20,000 fans in his home city of Leeds, but both fighters had plenty of vociferous support at the Manchester Arena.
For Frampton, this was the moment he had been building toward since losing to Santa Cruz, whom he outpointed in their first fight in July 2016. Since then, he swapped promoters and trainers after a fight fell through at the last minute and registered wins over Horacio Garcia, Nonito Donaire and Luke Jackson.
All of that progress was nearly blown away in a wild first round. Warrington, 28, launched an ambush, a furious and sustained burst of punches, that rocked Frampton and sent him staggering backward.
Not surprisingly, Frampton looked stunned, but the former champion rode out that particular storm. Warrington tried to do the same the following round, landing a blizzard of blows, and Frampton was relieved to meet the bell.
Frampton did better in the third to repel Warrington when the Leeds fighter tried to again launch one of his fast and furious attacks.
In the fourth, Warrington's energy dipped, and Frampton was able to land some good shots on the counter. There was great action at close quarters in the fifth, with Warrington just a little quicker to land his punches.
At the halfway point, ESPN had Warrington ahead five rounds to one after the champion ended the sixth piling on the pressure at close range.
Warrington continued to win the close-range exchanges, but in the eighth when both opened up, it was Frampton who landed the harder and cleaner blows. Frampton ended the eighth with a flourish and appeared to briefly shake Warrington.
Frampton's face was swollen by the latter rounds, and Warrington, showing no signs of tiring, kept him mostly on the back foot with his pressure.
N'Dam too sharp for Murray
Hassan N'Dam ended a 14-month break in style, with a majority points win over Martin Murray to put him back in world middleweight title contention.
Cameroon-born, France-based N'Dam (37-3, 21 KOs) triumphed by scores of 114-114, 117-112 and 116-112 to take the WBC Silver title from Murray, whose persistent pursuit of world title glory might be over now.
Former world middleweight champion N'Dam had not fought since Ryota Murata stopped him in the seventh round for the WBA title in a first defence.
The 34-year-old looked fresh after the break, taking a well-deserved decision over Murray (37-5-1, 17 KOs), who went into the fight as the WBC No. 2 behind Gennady Golovkin. Mexico's Canelo Alvarez holds the WBC world middleweight, though earlier this month he stepped up to super-middleweight to win a secondary version of the WBA world title.
Murray, 36, from St. Helens, might see this as one defeat too many after four unsuccessful attempts (three defeats and one draw) in world title fights. He lost world title challenges to Sergio Martinez (points), Gennady Golovkin (stoppage) and Arthur Abraham (points) and was controversially held to a draw by Felix Sturm.
N'Dam went up a gear in the fourth round, and Murray struggled to contain him for most of the fight.
But moments before the bell at the end of the fourth, N'Dam sunk to the canvas in the corner for a count. N'Dam complained that he had slipped rather than his legs betraying him from a right hand.
N'Dam was too sharp in the fifth, then landed some big right uppercuts in the seventh, while Murray never found the explosiveness to launch a sustained attack of his own.
Murray was better in the eighth, but he never gained momentum and finished the fight looking for a knockout in the last round, with N'Dam hampered by a cut above the left eye, opened with two minutes left.
Conlan given a test
Michael Conlan continued his march toward the featherweight elite but found it harder than expected in a unanimous points win -- 97-92, 97-92 and 98-92 -- over England's Jason Cunningham (24-6, 6 KOs).
Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs), 27, is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, like Frampton, but says he is not interested in fighting his friend.
World title fights remain a while off for Conlan, and this was good experience along the way against an ambitious opponent.
Conlan was perhaps hit the hardest so far in the professional ranks by Cunningham, who landed a counter right hook on the chin in the fourth round.
Conlan took it well and resumed controlling most of the rounds, including a brilliant eighth round.
Conlan, who was docked a point for a low blow in the sixth round, went for the stoppage late in the 10th round, but Cunningham proved too tough. The Doncaster boxer took several blows flush before being nailed by a huge right to the jaw, but somehow he remained upright.
Williams outclasses Heffron
Liam Williams produced a stunning performance to halt Mark Heffron in 10 rounds for the vacant British middleweight title.
The Welshman was too slick and clever for his English opponent and, in this form, is ready for title fights beyond the British domestic scene.
Williams (19-2-1, 13 KOs), 26, suffered two defeats to Liam Smith last year and stepped up a division in a bid to give his career a boost.
From the first bell, the new weight division looked to suit Williams, whose movement and jab caused Heffron (21-1, 17 KOs) problems. Williams' speed of punches was impressive and a constant problem for Heffron, whose head kept getting snapped back.
The first four rounds were all Williams, and in the fifth, the Welshman landed a series of combinations as he continued to dominate.
In the sixth, Williams landed some blows flush as Heffron showed signs of unravelling. Later in the sixth, Williams landed a long right hand on the button as he grew in confidence.
Heffron, 27, from Oldham, was wobbled by a right hand in the seventh and again by a left after a low blow in the eighth round, as Williams showed no signs of slowing down with his sharp boxing.
Williams' accuracy took its toll in the 10th round, when he hurt Heffron with another right uppercut. The Welshman seized his chance and sent Heffron staggering back with left hands onto the ropes for a count.
Heffron's senses looked scrambled as he tottered around the ring, and Williams followed with a furious assault landing shots flush, including a crashing right hand, before referee Howard Foster waved the fight off.
Billy Joe Saunders, who lost the WBO middleweight title after he was refused a license for a title defence against Demetrius Andrade in Massachusetts because of a positive test for oxilofrine, cleared away some cobwebs after Charles Adamu retired before the fifth round.
Saunders, who weighed in at a career-heaviest 178 pounds (over the cruiserweight limit), had not fought for a year since his masterful display against David Lemieux a year ago. He outboxed 41-year-old Adamu in a near-empty venue just after 5 p.m.
Tommy Fury, 19-year-old younger brother of former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, got his professional career up and running with a four-round points win over Jevgenijs Andrejevs, a Latvian who has an unremarkable record of 10 wins, 103 losses and three draws.