Garda Niall Kennedy defied his underdog tag to defeat Alexis Santos in a split-decision to claim the New England heavyweight title in at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

Kennedy remains undefeated (9-0) and condemned the American prospect to just his second defeat in his 20th professional bout.

The Wexford-based garda started in aggressive fashion and pressed home his advantage in the opening three rounds before Santos took made inroads on Kennedy’s resolute defence.

Both fighters clearly tired before the Irishman rallied in the final round.

Two judges awarded the fight 96-93 in favour of Kennedy, while one judge awarded the contest on the same scoreline to the American.

The 33-year-old trains under Pashcal Collins at his Celtic Warriors Gym in Corduff, Dublin, commuting from Wicklow and Wexford for his work-outs before he travelled to the US earlier this week.

"It was demanding to be honest," said Kennedy on his preparation earlier this week. "You’re training twice a day and trying to work 10-hour shifts in between in it as well."