LAS VEGAS – Gervonta Davis' left uppercut to Ryan Garcia didn't seem to do much damage initially.
Garcia remained on his feet before backing up a few steps. Then he went to his right knee, and suddenly a highly anticipated boxing match was over, the lightweight bout ending at 1:44 of the seventh round Saturday night.
“I didn’t think that body shot would end it, but I saw his facial expression and that’s what made me take it to him,” Davis said. “It was a good shot, for sure. I thought he was going to get up, but I like to play mind games, so when he was looking at me, I was looking at him trying to tell him, ‘Get up!’ He just shook his head, ‘No.’”
Davis improved to 29-0, with all but two of his victories by knockout. It was the first defeat for Garcia, who won 19 of his first 23 fights by KO.
Davis also sent Garcia to the mat with a roundhouse left in the second round, and spent most of the rest of the fight working the body. The strategy worked for Davis, a 28-year-old from Baltimore who put himself in position to succeed Canelo Alvarez as the face of the sport.
“I’m definitely the face of boxing,” Davis said.
Garcia, a 24-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, did manage to land two sharp rights to Davis' face in the sixth round. But then Tank Davis came back in the seventh with a left that put Garcia on the mat for the second time and prompted referee Thomas Taylor to call the bout.
“He caught me with a good shot, and I just couldn’t recover," Garcia said. "He caught me with a good body shot, snuck under me and caught me good.
“I couldn’t breathe. I was going to get back up, but I just couldn’t get up."
This fight between lightweight challengers had the feel of a big-time event, attracting celebrities such as Julius Erving, Damian Lillard and Mark Walhberg, as well as former champs Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Manny Pacquiao. A sold-out crowd of 20,842 showed up, with Davis owning roughly a 60-40 split of the support.
“Everything about this was exciting," Davis said. “I was excited to be a part of this event. I remember coming up in the Golden Gloves and seeing Floyd (Mayweather Jr.) fight at the MGM. It was crazy. I actually just saw Rihanna perform at the Super Bowl, and I thought that’s going to be me one day, and we’re here.”
What kind of lasting impact this fight will have on the sport beyond Saturday remains to be seen, but both fighters — even as they bickered all week — recognized its importance when they agreed to fight. They are two boxers in their prime willing to take on each other rather than carefully choose other opponents to enhance their resumes.
They also are represented by rival promoters. Mayweather Promotions represents Davis, and Golden Boy Promotions handles Garcia.
Even the promoters argued before the fight, with Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya claiming Mayweather's Leonard Ellerbe and his camp protected Davis by insisting certain clauses be written into the contract. Ellerbe shot back that as the dominant side, they had the right to ask for certain stipulations.
“I know we talked a lot of trash leading into the fight, but (Davis) knows what it is,” Garcia said. “It’s all love at the end of the day. I was honored to be in the ring with a great fighter and I respect him a lot.”
Davis, at minus-250 at FanDuel Sportsbook, was a substantial betting favorite.
Davis' victory could set up a showdown with undefeated Devin Haney, who owns all four major championship belts in the division. Haney faces former champ Vasiliy Lomachenko in May, also in Las Vegas.
In the co-main event, David Morrell Jr. made quick work of Yamaguchi Falcao, knocking him out at 2:22 of the first round to retain his WBA super middleweight championship. Morrell improved to 9-0, with all but one of his fights by KO. Falcao, who remained on the canvass for about three minutes, is 24-2-1.
Morrell called this “the best moment of my career” and said he wants to take on two-time WBC super middleweight champion David Benavidez.
“I don’t want any other guys at 168 pounds, just Benavidez," Morrell said. "I respect Benavidez and his team, but inside the ring, I don’t respect nothing.”
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