LONDON -- Dillian Whyte survived a last-round crisis to prevail unanimously on points over Joseph Parker after a thrilling finish to their heavyweight fight on Saturday.
A weary Whyte climbed off the canvas in the last minute of the 12th round to ensure he triumphed by scores of 113-112, 115-110 and 114-111 to take an important step in what he hopes is a return journey to facing Anthony Joshua.
Whyte (24-1, 17 KOs) forced two knockdowns before visiting the canvas himself in a thunderous encounter that climaxed in a brutal brawl at the O2 Arena.
"He was slick and I knew he was going to fight for the first few rounds, then come back in the final few rounds," Whyte said.
"I am annoyed I slipped at the final hurdle in the last round. I was rocked and took a few."
Victory boosts Whyte's hopes of facing Joshua again after a seventh-round stoppage defeat to his English rival in December 2015, and he showed a lot of qualities against Parker (24-2, 18 KOs), including power, boxing skills, heart and stamina.
Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs), 28, is due to defend the WBA, IBF and IBF world titles against Russian Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 and has another date -- April 13 at Wembley Stadium -- already in the diary.
Perhaps Dereck Chisora, who knocked out Carlos Takam on the undercard, is another option in a rematch for Whyte. Chisora climbed onto the ring apron after the fight to challenge Whyte, and it might be a good fight in the interim if Whyte has to wait for a title shot.
Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, hope Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion from America, will be in the other corner next spring, but Whyte has made himself the likely Plan B should Wilder fail to agree to terms on a $15 million offer.
Whyte, who outpointed Joshua as an amateur before being spectacularly knocked out by his rival three years ago, lifted a couple of fringe belts with his eighth successive win but more importantly kept himself in the frame for a world title shot next year.
"I would like to fight Joshua again if he wants it," Whyte said. "I've still got a lot to learn, so I would like to get one more in before him again."
A second successive defeat for Parker, who lost the WBO world title to Joshua on points in March, casts the New Zealander further adrift from another title shot.
"I gave it my best; the better man and I will come back stronger," Parker said.
Whyte, 30, had compiled seven wins since being stopped by Joshua, and most impressive of all was the way he dispatched Australia's Lucas Browne by knockout last March.
The South Londoner, who moved from Jamaica at age 12, secured his high-ranking positions with the world governing bodies: No. 1 with the WBC, No. 2 with the WBO and until recently was also No. 1 with the IBF.
Parker, 26, from South Auckland who trains in Las Vegas, caused Whyte problems in the first round with his hand speed and an effective jab.
Whyte weighed in at 258 pounds, nearly a stone (14 pounds) heavier than Parker, and it looked like he might struggle with the New Zealander's movement after an impressive opening session from Parker.
Parker looked confident again in the second round, landing a big right and a fast combination, but was then given a count after getting in a tangle with Whyte. No clean punch seemed to land and the count -- the first in Parker's professional career -- looked harsh.
Parker was back into his rhythm in the third round, but Whyte unsettled him in the fourth round and was fortunate to get away with some illegal blows.
Whyte was hurt by a right hand early in the fifth round as Parker reverted back to using his jab.
But Parker became ragged in the sixth round and Whyte landed a big right uppercut before unloading successful combinations.
Whyte absorbed a big right to the head early in the seventh round and began catching Parker with single shots as the New Zealander dropped his hands in fatigue.
Whyte effectively jabbed Parker in a display of his own boxing skills in the eighth round and Parker no longer looked so confident.
And Parker was left in big trouble when Whyte detonated an explosive left hook to the jaw in the ninth round.
Parker quickly got to his feet and smiled at his corner, but he was hurt and was then given a reprieve, as Whyte did not jump on the New Zealander to try to finish him.
But after two knockdowns, Whyte was in firm control of the fight and again employed his jab to good use in the 10th round.
But this brilliant battle was still in the balance in the 11th and final rounds as Parker went for the KO -- and came close to landing it.
Whyte was on unsteady legs late in the 11th and through the 12th as Parker launched vicious attacks. Eventually Whyte succumbed and crumpled to the canvas in the last minute after being caught by a right to the top of the head.
Whyte hauled himself up and the bell was not far away to save him.