Ruben Villa embraced the cheers from the crowd as he entered the ring for the first time in more than a year.
The former title challenger rewarded his fans with a second straight victory after a one-sided, fifth-round stoppage of Maickol Lopez Villagrana. Villa scored a knockdown in round four and had Villagrana on the way out before referee Gerard White stopped the bout at 1:55 of round five in their ESPN+ aired bout Saturday evening from Stockton Arena in Stockton, California.
Villa wanted to make a statement both for his regional fan base and in his official Top Rank debut. The Rick Mirigian-managed southpaw from Salinas, California—roughly two hours from Stockton—used subtle movement on the inside to avoid most of the incoming from Lopez and often responded with crisp jabs and straight left hands.
An urging from longtime head trainer Sam Garcia to pick up the pace saw Villa respond with conviction in round three. Villagrana was rocked in the final minute of the round from a four-punch combination by Villa, who ended the round with a straight left hand to the chin.
Villa scored the first knockdown of the bout with a little more than a minute to go in round four. A right uppercut by Villa snapped back the head of Villagrana, who was then sent to the canvas courtesy of an overhand left. Villagrana beat the count but was rocked again later in the round and also forced to contend with swelling under his right eye.
Villagrana was given a brief examination by the ringside physician prior to the start of round five. The Mexicali-born, Miami-based featherweight was given the all-clear to continue but was unable to punch his way back into the fight. Villa didn’t waste any time to close the show. A stream of power punches left Villagrana (16-5, 8KOs) on the defensive before a final flurry along the ropes forced the stoppage.
Villagrana has now lost his last three starts. He previously went the eight-round distance with unbeaten prospects Marc Castro and Victor Abreu in separate bouts last year.
Villa improved to 20-1 (6KOs) with the win, his second in a row since a twelve-round defeat to Emanuel Navarrete in their October 2020 vacant WBO featherweight title fight. Two knockdowns were the difference on the scorecards between a majority draw and the eventual narrow decision for Navarrete, though Villa offered a strong account of himself in his first career title fight.
Villa-Lopez was part of a seven-fight show. Headlining on the ESPN portion of the event, Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8KOs) defends his WBO middleweight title versus Montreal’s Steven Butler (32-3-1, 26KOs). Also on the show, Australia’s Jason Moloney (25-2, 19KOs) and the Philippines’ Vincent Astrolabio (18-3, 13KOs) vie for the vacant WBO bantamweight title.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox