In an entertaining battle, unbeaten Magomed Kurbanov narrowly prevailed on the cards against former WBO 154lbs champion Liam Smith at the KRK ‘Uralets’ in Ekaterinburg, Russia, on Friday night. Scores were 115-113 (twice) and an insulting 117-112 card.

The victory is set to propel Kurbanov (22-0, 13 KOs) towards a WBO title eliminator against highly-rated Australian and No.1 contender Tim Tszyu. Reigning WBO champion Brian Castano will meet WBC, IBF and WBA Super title holder Jermell Charlo in an undisputed title clash on July 17. But Kurbanov’s career-best win was not without a slice of hometown fortune.

In the opening round, a Smith left hook sent Kurbanov to the canvas but the referee ruled a slip but no knockdown. Yet the Scouser controlled the first half of the fight nonetheless.

Smith (29-3-1, 16 KOs) employed his swarming, trademark aggression early, but the ‘Black Lion’ countered his pressure with slick defence. The hometown fighter forced Smith into a corner with a volley of right hands in the sixth, but the Scouser’s work-rate and intensity caught the eye thereafter. 

The Liverpool man stunned Kurbanov in the ninth with the Russian holding on in survival mode. Yet the local favourite rebounded and impressed with his fluid combinations in the 10th and 11th. Kurbanov tired more in the last but squeaked over the line in the view of the judges.

The verdict seemed harsh on Smith, who was given few favours on away territory.