He looked worn, weathered and weary at the final bell, but Gennady Golovkin is a world champion again.
The 37-year-old became a middleweight world champion for the second time with a punishing victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko in New York which saw him claim the vacant IBF title.
GGG was awarded a 114-113, 115-112, 115-112 decision over his Ukrainian opponent at Madison Square Garden, but his performance suggested his best days are now behind him.
It proved to be one of the toughest fight of Golovkin’s career, with the Kazakh admitting as much afterwards.
“I told you, he’s a very tough guy,” Golovkin said in the ring after his win.
“This is huge experience for me. Right now, I understand I need more. I feel this was not an easy fight for me. This was a tough fight.”
The fearsome Kazakh fighter floored Derevyanchenko in the first round, catching him with an uppercut before sending him to the canvas with a follow up shot to the head.
GGG had made a slow start to that opening round, but offered a timely reminder of his notorious power.
Dereyvanchenko responded well, producing plenty of body shots and busy jabs.
A nasty cut opened up over the Ukrainian boxer’s right eye early on, with the commission deciding that it had been caused by an accidental headbutt, though replays suggested it was another heavy Golovkin punch which inflicted the damage.
Perhaps fearful that the cut would bring a premature end to the fight – and thus send the bout to the judges’ scorecards – Derevyanchenko was full of energy in the third, targeting GGG’s body regularly and doing his best to force the veteran on to his back foot.
Both fighters took plenty of shots in the fourth, with GGG shading the action, landing a heavy shot to Derevyanchenko’s chin near the end of the round.
The doctors scrutinized Derevyanchenko’s eye injury before the fifth, eventually deciding the 33-year-old was allowed to continue.
Both fighters enjoyed success in the fifth, but Derevyanchenko appeared to hurt Golovkin with a powerful body shot in the second half of the round.
Derevyanchenko got the better of the sixth, before GGG cut off the ring and got his second wind in the seventh.
Golovkin landed some heavy shots in the eighth, but with no stoppage forthcoming , the fight remained very much in the balance as it approached the championship rounds.
GGG landed a searing uppercut in the opening seconds of the ninth, but Derevyanchenko recovered quickly and piled more pressure on the older boxer as the round progressed.
By this stage, Golovkin was looking tired and appeared to be wilting against a challneger four years his junior.
This was one of those rare occasions on which the ferocious former Olympic silver medalist looked more like a human than a machine.
The mutual punishment continued in the 10th, with Derevyanchenko shading the round, landing some clever combinations and working relentlessly for three minutes.
GGG – looking all of his 37 years – largely worked behind his reliable jab in the 11th as both fighters visibly tired.
Golovkin bullied his opponent in the 12th, doing enough to win the round.
Having felt aggrieved (to put it mildly) over the judges’ decisions in his fights against Canelo Alvarez, GGG may have been feeling the heat when the final bell rang, particularly given the tight nature of the fight.
However, the judges sided with the Kazakhstan fighter, and his dreams of completing his trilogy against Canelo remains intact.