MIDDLEWEIGHT boxing champion Gareth Gardner had to call on every ounce of his experience to emerge victorious last Saturday after he successfully defended his Queensbury British title with a gruelling points win at the Effingham Park Hotel in West Sussex.
The undefeated 28-year-old from New Addington topped the bill on the Queensbury Boxing League's massive 2012 season finale and had promised his army of fans an early Christmas cracker.
He faced Northampton's Nathan Leeson in the second defence of his British middleweight title and his pre-fight prediction could not have been truer as the pair exchanged heavy leather from the opening seconds of the contest to produce one of the most memorable battles in the history of the UK's premier boxing league.
From the start of the contest Gardner went straight to work, pressing forward with the relentless determination that he has become famed for, but Leeson, who is renowned for his slick defensive repertoire, was able to avoid the majority of the incoming bombs and land his own hurtful-looking counters that definitely got Gardner's attention.
At the end of the opener, it was clear Gardner was in for a tough evening with Leeson edging the contest early on.
The second round started off where the pair had left off in the previous stanza, and Gardner continued to drive forward, working well behind the jab and landing some big overhand rights.
But again, Leeson's movement was beginning to frustrate the champion as he avoided getting tagged cleanly. And in the third and fourth rounds, it was difficult to split the pair as both boxers had their success, and it looked too close to call as they went back to their respective corners at the end of the round.
As the fight moved into the fifth and final round of the championship contest, the outcome looked to be on a knife edge with many at ringside scoring it two rounds apiece, and as the warriors got straight down to work, the tension among both sets of fans could be felt around the arena. As the drama unfolded and the round played out, the champion managed to dig deep and produced a flurry of hurtful-looking punches, which ended with a massive right hand that detonated on Leeson's forehead just seconds before the final bell.
As both challenger and champion waited to hear the judge's decision, MC Grant Waterman read out the decision, declaring Gardner the winner by way of unanimous decision.
Talking after the fight, Gardner was quick to lay praise on his toughest opponent so far in the league, but felt he had done enough to take the victory.
"Nathan was easily my toughest fight so far in the league, but although it was a hard fight I really enjoyed it in there tonight," said Gardner.
"I felt my jab was working well and I was hitting him to the body to try and soften him up, but it's hard to tell how well I did until I actually see the fight back, as when you are in there all you are doing is concentrating on your opponent.
"It's been an amazing year in the league and after five good fights and five good wins I'm going to take some time off now, but I'm already looking forward to 2013 now and seeing who's next in line for me."
Gardner's epic tussle with Leeson will feature on British Eurosport in early December, and with a host of new suitors ready to take on the champion next year, 2013 could be the biggest year of boxing for the likeable star.