James DeGale stayed on course for a world title fight with an 11th-round stoppage of Gevorg Khatchikian at Bristol’s City Academy.
Making the third defence of his WBC Silver super-middleweight title, DeGale dominated most of the fight, although he endured some difficult moments in the seventh round.
He eventually managed to finish off his previously unbeaten opponent, flooring him twice – both times with body shots – in the penultimate round, prompting the referee to stop the contest two seconds before the bell.
The fight was intended to be a warm-up for a final eliminator for a shot at the world title held by WBC champion Sako Bika.
That planned eliminator against Badou Jack was scheduled for later this year but DeGale’s already troubled path to the world title he craves appeared to become foggier when Jack suffered a shock defeat 24 hours earlier.
Jack was beaten in the first round by unheralded American veteran Derek Edwards – his first defeat – leaving DeGale’s immediate future unclear.
The Harlesden man at least kept his side of the bargain, although underdog Gevorg Khatchikian was no pushover in what was a huge step up in class for the Netherlands-based Armenian.
DeGale was sloppy in a second round in which he was carelessly caught with shots and cut near his left eye.
Having switched off, he emphatically switched back on in the following round, landing with a number of body shots and a stiff left-right combination to the head.
More shots to the body seemed to hurt Khatchikian in the fourth, and in round five two solid uppercuts and another big left from DeGale also had an effect.
There were anxious moments in the seventh, however, when DeGale was backed up against the ropes and appeared to be stunned after being tagged with a right uppercut and a couple of follow-up shots.
To his credit, DeGale responded strongly and in the following round it was his opponent who looked groggy as the Olympic gold medallist landed to body and head.
Khatchikian was also on rubbery legs – again largely the result of thudding body shots – in the ninth, and two rounds later he could take no more.
Having been stung by a shot to the jaw, he went down after another accurate body shot and having bravely battled on, he soon found himself on the canvas again.
He climbed to his feet to beat the count for a second time, but the referee had seen enough, leaving DeGale safely past what could yet turn out to be the last obstacle on the way to a world title challenge.
With Jack now out of the picture, DeGale’s promoter Mick Hennessy, backed by the British Boxing Board of Control, is lobbying the WBC for DeGale to be installed as the mandatory challenger to Bika without the need for an eliminator.