Davis introduces Santa Cruz to tank warfare with a devastating, 1-punch knockout
Exit velocity came to boxing Saturday night in a glorious and grotesque way.
No one actually measured the speed of Gervonta Davis’ left uppercut as Leo Santa Cruz lowered his head and took its full force right on the jaw.
Santa Cruz’s fall to the canvas, in his own corner, was nearly as immediate.
Rafael Ramos, the referee, rushed over and saw no need to count. Davis, known as “Tank,” moved to 24-0 with 23 knockouts, none starker than this one, with 20 seconds left in Round 6, that gave him Santa Cruz’’s WBA super-featherweight title and preserved his own WBA lightweight belt.
“I thought, ‘Damn, is he OK?’’’ Davis said later, which is what the well-spaced crowd of 11,000 in San Antonio’s Alamodome must have thought, too.
Santa Cruz was on his back for an uncomfortably long time. His head bounced off the bottom turnbuckle, and while he lay there, his dad Jose reached over and put his hand on Leo’s arm.
Eventually Santa Cruz was raised to sit on his stool, where he flashed his familiar smile, and walked out of the Dome with no assistance. It was the first time he ever has been knocked out. The 32-year-old is now 37-2-1 after his wish to fight Davis was fulfilled. This is not a loss he will be eager to avenge.
Santa Cruz was enjoying a solid 6th round. He was rocking Davis with left-right combinations and seemed to be absorbing the vicious left hooks and uppercuts that the left-hander from Baltimore features.
Backed into the corner, Santa Cruz threw a right hand that missed, and then another. Davis had the uppercut fully loaded, and it landed like a murderous drone.
“He wasn’t trying to get up,” Davis said. “He was out. We fighters go in there with killer instinct. But in the end we have families to go back to.
“Leo was right there for that shot. In the first few rounds I was a little anxious. Floyd keeps telling me that it’s a 12-round fight, to calm down. I’m learning.”
Floyd is Floyd Mayweather, who promotes Davis and has adapted him as the next version of himself.
It was a respectful promotion from the beginning, although Davis teased Santa Cruz by wearing a sombrero during his ringwalk.
Davis singled out Santa Cruz’s dad, calling him “a real champion.” Jose has always been Leo’s trainer, through years of fighting bone cancer and going through chemotherapy. This year Jose came down with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator at City of Hope. His heart stopped twice during the ordeal, and he has been in a wheelchair, but he walked into the ring Saturday night.
All three judges scored the fight 48-47 for Davis at the time of the knockout.
“It was an amazing performance,” Mayweather said. “I used to be that same kid, sitting right there. I’ve put him in the same position I was in. He will fight when he wants to fight, and who he wants to fight, and he’ll keep proving he’s the best.”
Given 12 rounds this might have been a Fight of the Year contender. There was no feeling-out process in the first round, and Santa Cruz, with a 2-inch reach and height advantage, was not holding back.
But Davis connected on 55 percent of his power shots, and he nicely turned some of Santa Cruz’s most malicious shots into grazing blows.
Davis was happy that he’d spent 15 weeks in Las Vegas training at Mayweather’s facility and said he would be back there again “in a week and a half or so.”
“I began by throwing the jab and I saw he was trying to counter me,” Davis said. “I saw that and adjusted. I threw and then got out of the way. Then I started throwing his left a little wider and that worked, too.
“I would hit his gloves at times but it would still knock him back. I could tell I was breaking him down. His body was telling him he couldn’t do it but his mind was telling him to keep going. That’s what a great warrior does.”
“We had been working on the last shot,” said trainer Calvin Ford. “And he closed the show with it.”
Davis, who had to get below 130 pounds to make this fight, said he will continue boxing at both 130 and 135 in order to hold both belts. A multitude of quality fights are there for him, but lightweight Ryan Garcia has been the loudest petitioner.
At the very least Davis should be included in the mythical Top 10 pound-for-pound list. A super-fight could loom with Teofimo Lopez, the unified lightweight champ, although it would take some delicate negotiation. Davis fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, and Lopez fights for Top Rank.
“You keep lining them up, we’ll keep knocking them down,” Davis said. “I’m not ducking or dodging.”
He looked for a more ominous metaphor.
“I don’t have to call anybody out,” he said. “There ain’t no safety on this Glock.”