Undefeated Gervonta Davis knocked out Leo Santa Cruz with a vicious uppercut in the sixth round to seize the World Boxing Association belt in a junior lightweight world title clash in San Antonio on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Davis surprised Santa Cruz with a left uppercut that snapped the champ's head back and sent him crumbling to the canvas late in the sixth round at the Alamodome Arena.
Hit by a punch he never saw coming, Santa Cruz landed flat on his back under the padding in the ring corner and remained that way for about a minute while doctors attended to him. He was eventually able to sit up and was even smiling once he shook off the cobwebs.
American Davis improved to 24-0 with 23 knockouts by registering the defining win of his up-and-coming career and handed the four-division champion Santa Cruz his first knockout.
"I'm going to continue to show people all over the world that I'm the best. I don't have to call anybody else out. I'm the top dog. Just line them up, and I'll knock them out one by one," said Davis.
The 32-year-old Santa Cruz, of Mexico, dropped to 37-2-1 with 19 KOs. He was trying to win a title fight in his fifth weight class.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic in the US, organizers allowed about 10,000 spectators into the arena with masks and social distancing rules in place.
The fight pitted the knockout power of Davis against the endurance and dominating pressure style of Santa Cruz but the latter never got the chance to wear Davis down in the closing rounds.
The fight began with a solid first round in which the two exchanged punches in the centre of the ring. Davis fell to the canvas but it wasn't because of a knockdown. His right leg got tangled up with Santa Cruz's leg and he tripped.
Santa Cruz also suffered a small cut on the bridge of his nose in the opening round but his corner did a good job of repairing it.
In the second round, Davis's temper got the best of him after he got frustrated during a clinch. Davis used both arms to throw Santa Cruz to the ground prompting a verbal scolding from the referee.
Santa Cruz was looking more comfortable in the sixth and willing to exchange with Davis. But he got careless late in the round and that was all Davis needed to counter a punch and land the brutal shot that put the champion down.
"There was nowhere he could have went. The rope was right there," Davis said.
- 'Top dog' -
Davis's manager, Floyd Mayweather, said Davis can now pick and choose his opponents.
"Tank is the top dog," Mayweather said. "I'm putting him in position to do what I did. Fight who he wants, when we want. He's the top dog."
Davis extended his six-year knockout streak to 15 straight bouts. He has a 96 percent knockout ratio.
He vacated the WBA super-featherweight crown to move up to the lightweight ranks last December, stopping Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa in the 12th round.
Santa Cruz, who was taken to the hospital for a checkup, captured his WBA title last November with a unanimous decision victory over American Miguel Flores.