Lucian Bute nearly collapsed in the final round but held on to retain his IBF super-middleweight title with 12-round unanimous decision victory over Librado Andrade before 16,266 chanting spectators Friday night at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Bute (23-0), of Montreal, dominated the first 11 rounds, but in the 12th he was hit hard several times and seemed to be both groggy and exhausted. After falling to the canvas, he could barely remain standing in a corner as referee Marlon Wright gave him an eight-count, but he was saved by the bell to end the bout.
Wright looked to give Bute extra time by ordering Andrade (27-2) back to a neutral corner for the count.
Andrade absorbed a beating but kept moving in relentlessly at Bute, who spent most of the fight bobbing and then blasting his American opponent with right-left combinations to the delight of the pro-Bute crowd.
In the co-feature, Ronald Hearns, the son of former ring great Thomas (Hitman) Hearns, dominated Paul Clavette and stopped the Montreal fighter in the sixth round of their light middleweight bout.
With his father at ringside, the 25-year-old Hearns (21-0), who is tall and lean like his dad but without quite the devastating punch, backed Clavette (14-2-1) into a corner and knocked him down midway through the sixth. Clavette got up, but was given a second eight-count before referee Richard Griffin stopped the bout.
The 30-year-old Andrade fights for Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, but has trained in Montreal since January under Howard Grant. He ended the career of his trainer's brother Otis Grant with a victory in Montreal in 2006 in a WBC title eliminator.
The night saw a local favourite go down hard as American Dominick Guinn (29-6-1) pounded Jean-Francois Bergeron (27-2) of St-Jerome, Que., to the canvas with a flurry of shots 2:40 into the second round of their 10-rounder. Bergeron was wobbly as he got to his feet and referee Gerry Bolen stopped the bout.
Bergeron, who works as a fireman by day, was coming off a good showing in a decision loss to seven-foot Russian Nikolay Valuev.
Bute won his title with an 11th round TKO over Alejandro Berrio on Oct. 19, 2007 and made an optional defence against tired veteran William Joppy in February, winning in the 10th. The Adrade bout was his first mandatory defence.
Adrade, whose only loss was to Danish star Mikkel Kessler in 2007, became the IBF's top contender with an eight-round stoppage of Robert Stieglitz in March.
The super-middleweight division has heated up since undisputed champion Joe Calzaghe gave up his three titles to move up to light heavyweight.
Bute hopes to take over, although there is a tough champion in the WBA in Kessler, and the gifted Jean Pascal of Montreal will fight Carl Froch for the vacant WBC belt on Dec. 6 in Nottingham, England.
As well, a WBC eliminator is to be contested Nov. 15 between former IBF champ Jeff Pacy and ex-middleweight king Jermain Taylor in Nashville. Taylor is coming off a pair of losses to Kelly Pavlik, who last week lost his two middleweight belts to veteran Bernard Hopkins.
The crowd booed what they felt was an overly technical unanimous decision victory by Renan St-Juste (19-1-1) of Repentigny, Que., who retained his WBC Continental middleweight belt against Amilcar Funes (18-7) of Argentina.
Preliminary bouts saw bantamweight Sebastien Gauthier (15-1) of St-Jerome, Que., stop Dario Azuaga (74-14-2) of Paraguay with his fourth knockdown at 2:29 of the third round and lightweight Pier-Olivier Cote (4-0) of Quebec City score a four-round unanimous decision over Ramon Tito Esperanza of Paraguay.
Light middleweight Phil (the Sudbury Sensation) Boudreau (4-0) had Jean Charlemagne (1-8-2) of Montreal down twice in a four-round decision and heavyweight Eric Martel of Quebec City city won his pro debut over Stephane (Brutus) Tessier (3-19-1) by decision.
Upcoming fights include Adrian Diaconu, another Romania native fighting out of Montreal, making a first defence of his WBC light heavyweight title against Silvio Branco on Nov. 15 in Bucharest, and IBF super-bantamweight champ Steve Molitor of Mississauga, Ont., looking to add the WBA belt to his collection against Celestino Caballero on Nov. 21 at Casino Rama in Orillia, Ont.