Former champ floored in the fourth but did enough to earn decision victory.
Former world light-welterweight champion Amir Khan had to climb off the canvas to keep on course for a shot at the division’s champions by out-pointing Julio Diaz on Saturday.
Khan, 26, was floored in the fourth round and looked on the brink of another knockdown in the 11th of a thrilling catchweight (143 pounds) 12-round non-title contest with Mexican Diaz at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield.
In Khan’s first performance back on British soil for two years, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist triumphed by scores of 114-113, 115-113 and 115-112 in a close fight.
Khan improved his record to 28 wins and three defeats, while Diaz suffered his eighth career defeat in a 49-fight career. It was another thrilling encounter the Briton was involved in but as exciting as he is, he also showed he is still vulnerable.
Khan, from Bolton in northern England, can now remain hopeful of a rematch with either Danny Garcia or Lamont Peterson, the Americans who have beaten him in the last two years.
Promoters Golden Boy had told Khan victory would propel him to a shot at the light-welterweight division’s undisputed world champion later this year.
Garcia was due to defend his World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Association (WBA) titles against Zab Judah hours after Khan had finished with Diaz, while Lamont Peterson is set to defend his International Boxing Federation (IBF) belt against Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse on May 18. The winners of Garcia-Judah and Peterson-Matthysse will then meet, and Khan hopes to now face the victor of that unification fight.
Khan made a measured start and former world lightweight king Diaz, 33, did not land a single meaningful blow in the opening round as the Briton fired out his jab before darting out of range.
It was a pattern that Khan repeated in the second, attacking with three punch clusters rather than jumping in with big punches that would leave him open.
But in the fourth round Khan did leave himself open and Diaz seized the chance, with two cuffing left hooks sending the home hero down.
Khan bounced up at the count of three and did not look seriously hurt before sensibly getting on his bike to ride out the rest of the round.
Khan was better in the fifth and sixth rounds, landing some big blows that left Diaz cut by the corner of the right eye.
But Diaz was always dangerous and Khan looked vulnerable again as it turned into a brawl in the eighth.
The fight had swung Khan’s way but in the tenth it swung back to the Mexican who had the Briton rocking early on with a left hook to the side of the head.
Another left-right further dazed Khan who then backpedalled unsteadily to survive a nervous tenth round.
Worse was to come from Khan in the 11th and he looked there for the taking as his hands dropped and Diaz repeatedly nailed him.
Khan was hurt by a left and right hook before another combination caught him flush as his career hung in the balance.
But Khan’s head cleared between rounds and he finished the fight boxing off his back foot, flicking out the jab.
His younger brother Haroon, 21, made a successful professional debut at super-flyweight with a 40-37 points win over fellow Englishman Brett Fidoe. Haroon, who won bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games boxing for Pakistan, afterwards said: “I could have boxed better and there was more pressure on me than in the amateurs. Now I’m looking to kick on in my next few fights.”
Also on the bill, American heavyweight Deontay Wilder took just 70 seconds to claim his 28th stoppage victim in his 28th fight after battering Briton Audley Harrison.
Wilder, 27, from Alabama, claimed his biggest scalp yet when he staggered Harrison with a huge right and the Briton never recovered as the American unloaded a series of clubbing hooks to the head.
Harrison, 41, slumped to the canvas in the corner and was on unsteady legs when the fight was waved off by referee Terry O’Connor.
It was Harrison’s seventh defeat since winning gold at the 2000 Olympics and the second time in six months he has been stopped inside a round.