Robbie Lawler was five minutes from the end of his time as Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion and answered with an effort that might send his game challenger Carlos Condit into retirement.
"Tonight was kind of a do-or-die moment for my career," Condit (30-9) said after judges Derek Cleary and Chris Lee awarded Lawler a 48-47 victory while judge Tony Weeks made it a split decision by scoring the Saturday night fight at MGM Grand for Condit, 48-47.
"I was all-in. If I got that strap, I was going to keep fighting. If I didn't – like I didn't – I have to see if I can continue to do this."
Lawler, after convincing Cleary and Lee to award him a narrow third round, finally broke through the disciplined Condit fight plan in the fifth round and dominated the challenger with a slew of heavy punches.
Both fighters were so out of breath in the end they each hung their arms over the top pad of the octagon and gasped for air.
"Man, he's tough! … That was a battle," Lawler said of his thoughts at the end of the fight.
"I was a little oxygen deprived," Condit said.
The action begged for a rematch, and Lawler was quick to grant it to Condit seconds after hearing the scores.
But Tyron Woodley had been promised a title shot before the bout, and Condit's career uncertainty leaves the situation further muddled.
UFC President Dana White said he'll reassess the situation when heads are more clear following a fight that saw both men knocked down before a fifth round that cements Lawler's standing as one of the organization's most entertaining brawlers.
"I wanted a firefight. I wanted a stoppage. I was going to move forward … I laid it all out there," Lawler (27-10) said of going woozy in the fourth round before possibly becoming the early front-runner for what would be his third consecutive UFC fight of the year.
"I did all I could to get the victory. It's all about getting better and pressing to become a better champion than I am today."
Condit, the former interim welterweight champion, who lost his share to then-champion Georges St-Pierre three years ago, was more impressive in this title chance.
"Carlos can do it all," Lawler said. "His movement was awesome. He was clever, he was sharp, he can take a shot. I had to dig deep."
The third round was so tight neither fighter made a post-fight case about winning it. Part of it, they admitted, was due to not being able to recall the action.
In the fifth, Lawler "was where he wanted to be," Condit said. "My plan to use my distancing and range to be where I wanted to be had been working. [Then] I got caught up against the cage. My movement, my angles weren't what they needed to be.
"I'm proud of the way I fought. We threw down. He pushed me. I had to fight my [rear] off. Some of it went according to plan. Some, not so much."
Condit said he believed he broke a toe in the bout.
Lawler said he's "not going to make a decision today" about when he can fight next after staging the 2015 fight of the year against Rory MacDonald, when in July Lawler rallied while down on the scorecards to knock out MacDonald in the fifth round.