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Giovani Santillan stakes claim to world title shot with dominant win over Alexis Rocha

Giovani Santillan (right) and Alexis Rocha. Photo credit: Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy

WBO number one welterweight contender Alexis ‘Lex’ Rocha 23-2 (15) was looking for the sort of statement performance against Giovani ‘Gallo de Oro’ Santillan 32-0 (17) at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California on Saturday night that would drum up support for a mooted world title challenge to undisputed 147-pound champion Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford 40-0 (31).

Instead the 26-year-old southpaw was easily outclassed by fellow lefty Santillan, 31, who had him down three times en route to a sixth-round knockout victory.

San Diego’s Santillan is known to be tough, gritty and experienced. He was expected to present a solid test to Rocha. A few outliers even thought he could pinch a win. But you could count the number of people who thought he would dominate on one hand.

It was apparent from the opening bell that Rocha was going to be in for a long night. WBO number five ranked contender Santillan went straight to work, walking Rocha down and strafing him with hard shots to the body and head.

Rocha struggled with Santillan’s physical presence and seemed to be in two minds as to whether box or bang. Neither option proved effective for him as he was busted up early in the bout and continued to bleed from the face for much of the contest.

The pressure from Santillan was relentless and if Rocha was thought he would punch himself out, he was sorely mistaken. If anything, Santillan kept finding another gear the more he hurt Rocha, largely silencing the pro-Rocha crowd by the time a third of the bout had elapsed.

Any time Rocha landed a punch of consequence, Santillan would return serve, often with interest. There was simply nothing Rocha could do to keep Santillan off him.

In the fifth round Santillan, who is trained by Robert Garcia, landed 30 power punches according to CompuBox, who had Rocha connecting with just eight.

If the first four rounds were bad for Rocha, things only got worse in the fifth when a left uppercut, right hook combination dropped him for the first time in the fight midway through the frame.

Rocha beat the count and fought back valiantly but with plenty of time left on the clock, Santillan landed a series of right hooks that sent him back to the deck again.

According to CompuBox, the Robert Garcia-trained Santillan landed 30 power punches during the round compared to just eight for Rocha.

The one minute rest break was not long enough for Rocha to sufficiently recover with Santillan looking for an early night. He got it at the 1:13 mark of the sixth when he dropped Rocha again, forcing the intervention of referee Ray Corona who saved the local favourite from sustaining any further punishment.

At the time of the stoppage Santillan was leading 50-43, 49-44 and 48-45.

“It was the outcome I was looking for,” Santillan said in his post-fight interview.

“Alexis is a great fighter, very strong. I think he showed that in the fight. Very tough. He got up twice. But it is the result that we were looking for.

“He’s strong. I definitely felt the power, but I felt good in there, I felt comfortable.

“I needed to get this win to get big fights in the future.”