A devastating left uppercut from Gervonta "Tank" Davis put Leo Santa Cruz to sleep and launched Davis into boxing stardom Saturday night.
Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) defended his WBA regular lightweight title and won Santa Cruz's WBA super junior lightweight title with his sixth-round KO, which immediately becomes a top contender for knockout of the year. It capped off what was the defining win so far of Davis' promising boxing career.
Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19 KOs) was taken to the hospital after the fight for precautionary reasons, though he tweeted later Saturday that he was OK. He was attempting to win a world title in his fifth weight class, and it was his first time being knocked out as a professional.
It was exactly the sort of fight that can bring boxing to a larger base -- a quick, heavy-pressure fighter in Santa Cruz standing toe-to-toe and trading attacks with a devastating power puncher in Davis. Neither fighter backed down.
But Davis, already a wildly popular young fighter, delivered an exclamation-point performance in his PPV debut that is likely to establish him as one of the faces of boxing going forward. Power sells, and few have power quite like Davis.
"First, I just want to say I'm a pay-per-view star. Everybody knows I'm No. 1, and I showed it tonight," Davis said. "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."
There were more than 9,000 socially distanced fans in attendance at the Alamodome in San Antonio to watch Santa Cruz-Davis, the first major fight in the United States with paying fans since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in March.
Davis continued his 15-fight knockout streak, which dates back to February 2015, and his 96% knockout percentage is the best of any boxing champion.
Santa Cruz valiantly ate several vicious Davis blows while throwing his own back in an action-packed bout from start to finish, but in the sixth round Davis threw a punch Santa Cruz never saw: a counter uppercut that caused Santa Cruz to drop the canvas, where he was slumped underneath the ropes for a couple of minutes before eventually getting up under his own power.
"There was nowhere he could have went. The rope was right there," Davis said after the fight while proclaiming he will maintain both his 130-pound and 135-pound titles.
This was the third two-division title fight since 1933 and the first since Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s rematch against Marcos Maidana in 2014.
Promoted by Mayweather, Davis wants to be boxing's premier superstar and best-seller like his mentor, and he made quite an impression in his first PPV bout Saturday.
"Tank is the top dog," Mayweather said. "I'm putting him in position to do what I did. Fight who he want, when we want. He's the top dog."
Davis was up three rounds to two (48-47) after five rounds, according to all three judges, but the 25-year-old from Baltimore had no intention of letting this fight go to the cards.
The difference was the power. Davis landed 55% of his power punches (80-of-146) to 29% for Santa Cruz (76-of-259).
Boxing has a new generation of young lions, with unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez at the forefront following his unanimous decision victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko. But Davis, the best power puncher in the junior lightweight or lightweight division, made it clear that he's right there with Lopez.
What makes this new era exciting is the fighters' insistence on taking major, career-defining bouts early in their careers, and it's easy to picture a superfight between Lopez and Davis taking place in 2021 or 2022.
But for now, Davis can celebrate his own signature win thanks to the knockout power that has earned him a new audience of fans.