Joseph Parker was forced to grind out a points victory over Junior Fa that kept the former world champion on course for a clash with Derek Chisora.
Parker had troubled his New Zealand rival with early aggression, wobbling Fa in the third round, but was visibly frustrated and weary in the closing rounds before receiving a generous unanimous decision win with scores of 119-109, 115-113 and 117-111 in Auckland.
A rescheduled heavyweight fight against Chisora could next for Parker, who admitted that he was hindered by an absence of nearly a year from the ring.
Parker was unable to find his range in the opening round and was rocked back on his heels by a well placed right hand from Fa.
But a short, sharp right hand from Parker drew roars from the crowd in the second, a warning sign to Fa, who was hurt by a clubbing combination in the third round
Parker continued to unload the crisper punches at close quarters in the fourth, but Fa responded with a thudding right hand in the fifth.
Fa raised his gloves triumphantly after another straight right hand in the sixth, although Parker carried the greater power, landing a looping left in the seventh.
A big right hand, followed by a clubbing hook forced Fa to hold in the eighth, and he was given more cause for concern when a stray elbow opened a cut over the 31-year-old's left eye.
But Fa reacted defiantly to this wound, forcing Parker into reverse with right hands in the ninth, while he thumped in more shots from long range in the 10th.
Entering the closing rounds, Parker was implored to display more urgency, but he wearily pushed out punches until the final bell.