SWINDON'S Luke 'The Duke Watkins successfully defended his Commonwealth Cruiserweight title tonight as opponent Mike Stafford was retired by his corner at the end of the eighth round at Leicester Arena.

Watkins, 28, who won the belt by defeating Robin Dupre at Bethnal Green in October, made a cautious start against his Southport rival, who showed considerable bravery throughout the contest, which was scheduled to go 12 rounds.

Veteran Stafford, 36, had never previously been stopped and proved an awkward customer for the Wiltshire man, successfully shutting down the space between the two and restricting Watkins' use of the jab, particularly in the early rounds.

Despite being rocked by a couple of Stafford's punches though, Watkins gradually began to get on top towards the middle section as his opponent began to tire, opening up a cut under Stafford's eye in the sixth round.

By the end of the seventh, Stafford's corner were warning their man they were preparing to pull him out unless he upped his workrate.

But the older man could make no headway in the eighth as Watkins assumed full control, with Stafford being told to stay on his stool at the end of the three minutes as Watkins marked his first title defence with victory.

Watkins said: "I know I can punch but man, this guy's chin. I knew he wasn't going to go and I was hitting him. He's got one hard head.

"It was an absolute pleasure to share the ring with Mike. There was no disrespect between us in the build-up and we came today and had a great fight.

"I just want to say massive credit to Mike and thank you. It takes two people to tango and without him it wouldn't have been a good fight.''

He added: "It (the victory) is my Christmas bonus to myself. It's about winning these things. It's very easy to get complacent once you've won something.

"Me being very self-critical, I knew I had to train even harder. Looking through Mike's record I knew he was going to be a tough man so we prepared to go into the trenches and we had a great fight.''

Stafford said: "I just want to congratulate the champion. He's an extremely, extremely, extremely strong guy. Looks can be deceiving.

"With such a young lad, he's got an old head on his shoulders. He took his time from the first round. I thought I was in the fight up to the fifth round.

"I shook him a little bit and his conditioning was superb. I hit him again and thought 'he's not ready' (to go down). He's a strong boy.

"He caught me with a good upper cut. It wasn't like he hurt me with the head shot, it was more like good, quality, clean shots.

"He's a great champion, a humble boy and the whole team has been so respectful. I love him to bits. We're going to keep in contact and I want him to take the British title, I really do, because he's good.

"He's a very experienced boy considering he's only had 12 or 13 fights.''

Earlier in the evening, Swindon's Ryan Martin lost out in his bid for the IBO Continental Welterweight title as he lost a unanimous points decision to Shropshire's Craig Morris.