A FIGHT of the year contender went the way of Lewis Crocker in Birmingham on Saturday night, as he claimed a unanimous decision verdict over a game Conah Walker to claim the WBA International welterweight title and improve to 20-0.

The South Belfast man had to dig deep for this one as Wolverhampton's Walker, backed by a huge support in the Resorts World Arena, gave it all he had and was happy to back up his pre-fight promises of standing toe-to-toe.

That he did and with the confidence of a man who had taken the undefeated records of his previous two opponents, but on the occasion Crocker was just a bit better and was landing the meatier punches.

"What a night," said the former Holy Trinity amateur who took the nod on cards of 96-93, 96-93, 95-94.

"The atmosphere was electric - I knew it was going to be because I'm fighting in his home town. Any work he did, the crowd erupted which made me have rot come back.

"A great fight. He came forward which made me have to box a lot of rounds where I was using my jab lovely. I thought I win by two, three rounds, but it was a great fight, a tough test and fair play to Conah.

"They (Walker's shots) were hitting me but had no effect. Just because the crowd was erupting, I was letting him know it wasn't getting to my confidence because it wasn't hurting me. I was in for a fight and feel like I was hitting him with the bigger shots. I was never hurt but we gave a great fight for the fans and one that will stand to me.

"It's only respect going forward with me and him. He will get a belt, come back and who knows, maybe in a few years we will get it on (again)."

Walker immediately marched towards the fire with his hands high in an effort to disrupt Crocker who did land a looping right early, but was forced to bide his time as Walker threw in bunches to disrupt an rhythm the Belfast man may have been aiming to gather.

'The Croc' was busier in the second as he looked to solve the puzzle in front, mixing his work from body to head as he looked to take charge, but Walker was not in survival mode as he was seeking a way through the guard and varied his work also.

The heavy fire coming in return did leave him with a bloodied nose but he was well in the hunt by the midway point, drawing blood also as his confidence grew.

It required a change of tact from Crocker who began to utilise his skills a little more, perhaps aware that Walker was not for budging in the face of his power as he brought his jab into play and this was setting up the power punches a little more.

Nevertheless, Walker was standing up to anything that landed flush, and they did so, but Walker would retaliate with his own and a his work was also making a dent as the fight turned into a class dow nine stretch.

A huge moment came in the ninth as Walker was docked a point by referee Steve Gray for repeated low blows and this would ensure he had to go for broke as both men emptied their tank, throwing everything they had as the fight reached a thrilling crescendo.

But it was the 27-year-old Sandy Row man who had been a step ahead and this was reflected on the final tallies.

Crocker gets through with a right hand

Crocker gets through with a right hand

"I knew Conah was always good, always game because he talked a lot of rubbish about me the whole way through (the build-up)," Crocked added.

"I believe I was able to show a lot of my skill-set tonight and there's a lot of stuff I have to work on. It was a great fight and I can't be upset because I got a guy who was in form, got his belt and took his ranking. 

"I believe I'm two fights away from a world title and ready for whatever's next."

As for what's next, Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn seems locked in to match Crocker with Limerick's Paddy Donovan towards the end of the year and that all-Irish dust-up would undoubtedly grip the attention of all boxing fans on the island.

'The Real Deal' was ringside in Birmingham and Crocker insists he has no issues throwing down with the Treatyman.

"100 per cent," he insists. 

"I think it's the biggest fight in Ireland, so we can for sure get it on. Whether it's two fights' (time) or next, we'll get it on. I'll fight him next, no problem.

"I'll fight anyone, whoever. I'm there and ready to fight. Whatever name it is, let's do it."