Ricky Burns failed to recover from a first-minute knockdown as he fell on points to Dejan Zlaticanin in their battle for the WBC International lightweight title in Glasgow.
Burns finished the fight at Braehead Arena strongly, but his good late work was not enough to secure victory on the cards as he went down 115-113, 113-115, 115-113 in a split decision in favour of the hard-hitting Montenegrin.
Zlaticanin, who became a father earlier in the day, started like a man possessed and caught Burns with a shot to the chin inside the first 20 seconds, a partisan home crowd stunned into silence.
The knockdown seemed to affect Burns over the first half of the fight, with the southpaw continuing to sit back and pick him off with big punches, some of the haymaker variety but still proving effective.
Burns, beaten by Terence Crawford in his last fight in March, began to fight back during the middle rounds and started to make back some of the losses he had clearly suffered earlier on.
And that pattern continued until the end, with Burns pressing Zlaticanin back and his opponent waiting for rare chances to throw another long, looping left hand.
But the rally proved to be too late with two judges giving Zlaticanin the nod by two points, making it three fights without a win for the 31-year-old Burns whose future in the sport may now come into question.
Promoter Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports afterwards that his fighter would take a break, giving him time to consider his options. A return would likely be at domestic level, with a number of potential opponents out there for Burns if he wants to carry on his career.
He’s devastated, Hearn said after visiting the beaten man’s dressing room. He had a nightmare start. I thought it was a very close fight and could have gone either way, without the start and a couple of rounds to get over that, I thought it was fairly even.
He’s got to go away and we will look for a big domestic fight, if that is what Ricky wants. It will be too raw now for Ricky to decide what he wants.
As for Zlaticanin, who extended his unbeaten career record to 18-0, the victory on his travels could lead to him getting a chance at a world title next.