INGLEWOOD, California – Everything in the air Saturday night at the fabled Kia Forum had an old-school feel to it as Alexis Rocha and Giovani Santillan got set to square off for their welterweight scrap.

Santa Ana’s Rocha and San Diego’s Santillan were both battling for Southern California turf and supremacy, similar to the scintillating slugfests that took place in the heyday of the since-closed Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.

The Mexican-American fighters were also trying to scratch and claw their way atop one of the sport’s glamor divisions currently ruled by Terence Crawford, hoping to somehow break through for a title shot. 

The main event fight – a much-welcomed anomaly presented by rival promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank – delivered a crowd-pleasing contest for as long as it lasted, and it was the betting underdog Santillan who rose to the occasion with a relentless and violent attack to drop Rocha three times en route to a dominant sixth-round knockout win.

Rocha was knocked down twice in the fifth round and never recovered in the sixth, as the scorching hot Santillan superbly closed the show in style to shock Rocha. 

Referee Ray Corona immediately waved off the fight at the 1:13 mark in the sixth after a flury of left uppercuts and right hooks from Santillan (32-0, 17 KOs) left a broken down Rocha (23-2, 15 KOs) crumbled on the canvas for a third time. 

“I feel good. It was the outcome I was looking for. I worked really hard. Rocha was tough,” said Santillan. “From here, we’re going up.” 

Santillan outslugged Rocha 167 to 110 and threw 367 total punches – 93 more than Rocha.

Plenty of leather was flying from the onset, as both fighters dug in their boots,  stood their ground, and refused to back down. 

Rocha looked strong in the beginning but by the third round, his nose was busted. Santillan saw blood and dialed up the pressure, which started to really show by the fifth as Rocha’s face was covered in crimson. 

Santillan’s destruction started when he scored his first knockdown in the fifth courtesy of a left uppercut-right hook combination.

“I thought maybe after the first [knockdown] he wouldn't get up, and he showed he's a warrior,” said Santillan. “I knew he wasn't going to come and lay down. I didn't expect that. I knew it was going to be a war. I wish him the best moving forward. He has a bright future ahead of him.” 

Rocha fought back and rallied remarkably, landing a hard left that had sweat flying off Santaillan’s scalp.

Rocha fell again in the middle of a Santillan flurry but Corona ruled it a slip. Corona got involved once more right after, warning Santillan for an illegal blow and pumping the brakes on Santillan’s momentum.  

But Santillan stepped on the gas and came back faster and more furious, unleashing a mesmerizing sequence of six straight hooks to drop Rocha for a second time seconds later. 

“[I had to be] aggressive, active, putting my punches together ... the way the fight was playing out, I had to get him,” said Santillan. “I was head-hunting a little bit, but I was breaking him down and it worked for me at the end.” 

The 31-year-old, Robert Garcia-trained Santillan connected with 30 power punches compared to just eight returned from Rocha in the fifth. He ended the demolition job in the sixth by outlanding Rocha 15 to seven, never leaving a doubt about who was the deserving victor between undefeated up-and-comers. 

The overwhelming and overpowering performance was the best of Santillan’s 11-year career. 

With the breakthrough win, Santillan better positions himself for a 147-pound title shot once the division’s picture opens up following current undisputed champion Crawford’s reign. Crawford is next set to face Errol Spence Jr. in a rematch that will either take place at 147 or 154 pounds, but his days at welterweight are all but over after the chapter with Spence ends.

Heading into the fight, Rocha was ranked No. 1 by the WBO, and Santillan was ranked No. 5, and surely Santillan will be better positioned once the sanctioning body releases its updated rankings. 

“This was a good fight and the kind of fights boxing fans are looking for,” said Santillan. “I hope the whole world got to see this. We need this in boxing right now, with all of the top fighters from different promoters getting together to make fights. I'd like Mario Barrios [from Premier Boxing Champions] next. That will be a very interesting fight for me – anything that will take me closer to a world title.” 

Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer, and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, through email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at], or via