Kamaru Usman underlined his status as the UFC's pound-for-pound king but was made to dig deep by his fierce rival Colby Covington in Madison Square Garden.
The 'Nigerian Nightmare' retained his welterweight title but failed to finish his challenger, who he conceded is a 'tough son of a b***h' as they buried the hatchet at the end of five gruelling rounds.
Usman had the fans on their feet in the second when he knocked down Covington twice but the controversial American clung on for dear life and survived to see the third.
To his credit, he then came on strong and the momentum began to shift before Usman regained some control behind his piston-like jab to see it out.
Usman and Covington have held a genuine dislike of one another even before the champion broke the challenger's draw in their first fight two years ago.
But there was a brief moment of respect when the curtain came down on their rematch as they embraced.
Usman reflected: 'There was a lot of bad blood and I'm sure there will be some still but he is a tough son of a b****. When you share an octagon with someone tough you gain that respect. I can tell his technique and power has come up. I am the pound for pound best alive, we take our time, stay calculated.
'New York, thank you for coming out, I hope we put on a performance for you.'
It was an enthralling five rounds but the flashpoint came in the second when Usman landed a chopping left hook to drop Covington to the mat and then followed it up with a longer one with the same result.
The clock was Covington's friend and he managed to evade much further damage as the seconds ticked away. Usman showed his composure by refusing to chase what would have been a hugely satisfying finish and stayed risk free to take straightforward decision.