By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Gervonta Davis destroyed Jesus Cuellar to prove that he learned an invaluable lesson by being distracted prior to previous fights.
Baltimore’s Davis dropped Cuellar three times to stop him in the third round on the Adrien Broner-Jessie Vargas undercard at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Referee Benjy Esteves Jr. stopped their scheduled 12-round bout between southpaws at 2:45 of the third round, once Cuellar hit the canvas a third time.
The 23-year-old Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) became a two-time world champion by winning the vacant WBA “super” 130-pound championship.
Argentina’s Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs) lost by knockout for just the second time in his nine-year pro career. Prior to Saturday night, he hadn’t been stopped Colombia’s Oscar Escandon beat him by seventh-round technical knockout in October 2011.
“There’s always bumps in the road when you want to become successful,” Davis told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the ring. “It’s all about how you bounce back and tonight I showed that I’m a true champion.”
Before Davis dismantled Cuellar, a clash of heads made a wincing Davis pause early in the third round and left him exposed briefly to Cuellar’s attack. Davis regained his composure pretty quickly and soon fired hard shots back at Cuellar.
About a minute-and-a-half later, Davis’ vicious right to the body dropped Cuellar again. The game former champion got up again, only to have Davis drill him with a combination that included a left uppercut that sent him to the canvas a third time.
Esteves immediately waved an end to the fight once Cuellar went down the third time.
Davis’ straight left to the body sent Cuellar to one knee with just under 1:50 to go in the second round.
Cuellar answered Esteves’ count, but clearly was trying to catch his breath as the action resumed. The cagey Cuellar was able to fight his way to the end of the round, though.
Cuellar came out firing as soon as their fight started. Davis remained patient and seemed to hurt Cuellar with a body shot just after the midway mark of the first round.
Davis won a vacant version of the WBA’s super featherweight title in the same building where he first became a world champion 15 months earlier. He made one defense of the IBF 130-pound championship he won by stopping Jose Pedraza in January 2017 before losing that title at the scale.
A distracted Davis couldn’t make weight for his second title defense against Francisco Fonseca on August 26 in Las Vegas. The IBF stripped Davis because he weighed in at 132 pounds for that appearance on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor undercard.
He knocked out Costa Rica’s Fonseca (21-1-1, 15 KOs) in the eighth round, but Davis admitted before facing Cuellar that he needed to become more professional. Davis moved his training camp from Baltimore to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he worked with new trainer Kevin Cunningham to prepare for Cuellar.
“On the undercard of Mayweather-McGregor fight, I just wasn’t focused,” Davis said. “It was the second time fighting on his card, so it got to my head and it showed. After the fight, I went home and talked to my team and we decided it was time to leave Baltimore. I’m focused and it showed because I’m a champ again.”
The 31-year-old Cuellar fought for the first time Saturday night in 16 months. He hadn’t boxed since Abner Mares beat him by split decision to take the WBA world featherweight title from Cuellar in December 2016 in Los Angeles.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.