A BRAVE Lee Churcher saw his hopes of capturing the vacant IBF European middleweight title ended by Joe Mullender in London tonight following an 11th-round stoppage at the Copper Box Arena.

Newport’s Churcher won the first two rounds but was then on the back foot for the rest of the fight as Essex’s Mullender knocked the 37-year-old down three times before the final knockdown.

Victory for the Welshman could have resulted in a shot at the Lonsdale Belt, however, defeat may well bring the curtain down on an 18-bout career.

From the outset, Churcher looked to counter-punch on the back foot and connected well with right hands to the body and uppercuts on the inside.

Having won the opening stanza, he was down twice in the second but one resulted from a Mullender push and the other a Churcher slip.

Mullender landed his first telling blow, a solid uppercut, but Churcher, now trained by Gavin Rees, moved further ahead on the scorecards.

He still found gaps in Mullender’s defence in the third but the Englishman drew blood from under Churcher’s left eye and then a clubbing right and strong finish put him on top.

Churcher, it seemed, was beginning to feel the pace and the fourth saw Mullender catch his rival with a left hook to the body and then a right hook that made it honours even on the cards.

And the fifth round was where the fight really turned in Mullender’s favour.

Churcher, having retreated to his corner, slipped and was caught with a right hand on his way down.

He responded well but took another count just before the bell after walking on to another right.

The end looked to be in sight but Churcher managed to survive the sixth despite taking two big rights and then another slip in the same corner in the seventh left him grimacing.

The Welshman took a third count from referee Steve Gray in the eighth, though this knockdown appeared to be the result of a Mullender shove rather than a punch.

Gamely fighting on, a determined Churcher still had the energy to land a few big uppercuts, before slipping to the canvas once more.

A tired Churcher fought on through the ninth and 10th rounds until, after 45 seconds of the 11th, he finally succumbed.

A clash of heads early in the round left him with a cut to his left eye and following a brief stoppage for the referee to assess the damage, Churcher was caught by a left hand that sent him down.

The man in the middle waved the fight off immediately to end Churcher’s brave effort.