Amir Khan clambered up off the canvas to keep his dreams of muscling back in on the world title picture just about alive with a dramatic points victory over Julio Diaz at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield tonight.
Khan turned a routine-looking assignment into a desperate war as he was dumped by a big left hook in the fourth round and teetered on the brink of further knockdowns as Diaz forced a spectacular finish.
Khan did enough in the early rounds to deserve his unanimous 115-113, 115-112, 114-113 points win, but it was far from the convincing statement he sought as he looks to set up lucrative showdowns back in the big time.
Fighting at a career-heaviest 143lbs, Khan knew he could ill afford to slip up after successive defeats to Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia threatened to bring an end to his top-level career.
The Bolton man rallied with a low-key win over Carlos Molina in Los Angeles last December and saw his bout against ageing former world lightweight champion Diaz as the ideal opportunity to move closer to reclaiming one of his title belts.
Diaz's best days were clearly behind him, having last fought at world title level when he lost to his namesake Juan Diaz in 2007, but the 33-year-old still entered the ring with a reputation as a rugged and durable opponent.
And he almost turned into Khan's worst nightmare as he visibly grew to relish his task, hurting Khan in the eighth round and launching furious assaults which almost saw further knockdowns in the 10th and 11th rounds.
Diaz had offered little in the opening exchanges to hint that he would unduly detain Khan, all of which made Khan's susceptibility to wide left hooks all the more alarming.
Khan looked in total control at the start but in the third there were signs of his weakness for turning the most simple of assignments into action-packed bouts as Diaz flicked home his first left hands of the bout.
And that old weakness was underlined in the fourth round when he walked into a swinging left hook which dumped him backwards onto the canvas, from where he comfortably beat referee Marcus McDonnell's count.
Diaz's shot sent a gasp through the crowd who had clearly expected Khan to get the better of a one-sided affair, and Khan exuded caution early in the fifth as his focused opponent began to sense an improbable win.
Khan reached the halfway point with plenty still to prove, not least in terms of his credentials to muscle back in on the world title scene.
A stronger sixth swung the momentum back in Khan's favour, and Diaz began bleeding around his right eye in the seventh as more clubbing rights found their target. Diaz responded with a blatant low blow that went unpunished by the referee.
Alarmingly susceptible to left hooks, Khan soaked up another in round eight and looked hurt as Diaz pushed forward in search of the big shot that would likely dump his opponent to the canvas for a second time.
As the fight neared its conclusion, Khan was showing scant reward for his extra weight-gain, and was visibly rocked by another huge left hook in the 10th, doing well to stay upright and skate out of danger.
And it was even more remarkable that he stayed up in the 11th as Diaz set up his most furious assault with another left hook, and whirled in blows to Khan's unprotected chin as he struggled desperately to cling on.
Khan deserved his razor-thin points verdict, but will need to do much more before he can truly convince his big rivals that he is a worthy contender to try to win back his old world titles.