It was a statement victory.
Following his win over Jose Pedraza in 2017, it’s fair to say the handlers of Gervonta Davis held serve on his opposition. His best wins the last few years, including now Leo Santa Cruz, have been men whose best days were probably in divisions below Jr. lightweight.
Santa Cruz, though, wasn’t Hugo Ruiz or Jesus Cuellar. With only one narrow and avenged loss to the excellent Carl Frampton, Santa Cruz represented the sort of hungry veteran who could help to deliver both Davis’s star appeal and in-ring game to another level.
Saturday couldn’t have gone much better for Gervonta Davis.
Leo Santa Cruz honored himself in defeat.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Davis: Davis got some of the best rounds of his career on Saturday night and his face showed it. Santa Cruz came to win but ultimately the power of Davis was telling well before the finish. Davis’s body attack contained Santa Cruz’s volume after a hectic first few rounds. The finishing blow went viral and beat out ESPN’s own highlight reel knockout win by Naoya Inoue to make the Sports Center top plays. Where does Davis go from here? Wherever it is, Davis is proving quite a ticket seller. He’s made a connection with fans. Baby faced one punch knockout artists are seemingly never out of vogue. The quandary for Davis will be finding the right weight to test his talents. Staying at Jr. lightweight could mean a big regional match against featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. If it happens, there will remain skeptics who look at Davis finding quality lower on the scale as a negative but the reality is much of the top of Jr. lightweight is contracted to other platforms. There isn’t an immediate option on paper for Miguel Berchelt, Jamel Herring or Joseph Diaz (though the latter two possible unifiers certainly aren’t impossible either). Russell would be serious business in the ring and at the ticket counter.
At lightweight, where Davis has appeared and will remain sooner than later for a spell, Teofimo Lopez may be gone to Jr. welterweight before it gets realistic at 135 lbs. Regardless, Davis, Ryan Garcia, Teofimo Lopez, Shakur Stevenson, Devin Haney and others are going to make a lot of money together in various combinations in multiple divisions. We’re seeing the nucleus of a new wave coming together. Best to be patient and watch it all unfold.
The Future for Santa Cruz: There are good Jr. lightweights Santa Cruz can beat but at 32 and coming off a big knockout, he may not have a ton of big nights left. He busted his ass to give the best effort he could and came up short. It happens, especially when facing the most potent offensive force of one’s career at a personal high end on the scale. The fighter in Santa Cruz won’t want to go out like he did on Saturday. A move back to featherweight wouldn’t be a bad idea either and he still holds a belt in that weight class. If Davis doesn’t fight Russell, Russell-Santa Cruz remains the best featherweight fight PBC can make that they’ve yet to be able to.
Oleksandr Usyk lost a few rounds here or there but he won and that’s better than losing. It’s about the best that can be said for an underwhelming performance. Usyk hasn’t seized the momentum he had coming out of cruiserweight but he’s got a mandatory and will have his chances to cement where he stands at heavyweight sooner than later...Naoya Inoue was supposed to beat Jason Moloney and did but, as is often the case, he did it with ample style points. There appeared to be no issues with his eye as his accuracy and sharpness remained as lethal as ever. It was clear Inoue was a special talent when his 2014 campaign earned Fighter of the Year honors at this site. He’s a special talent in full prime right now, battering real contenders at bantamweight in succession. If he can clean out all the belts, he can be the first undisputed bantamweight king in almost fifty years.
Rold Picks 2020: 25-9
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com