INGLEWOOD — It can be one of the loneliest moments a fighter can endure when, as the B side, they stand in their corner and wait.
And, make no mistake, Alexis Rocha made Southern Californian boxing rival Giovani Santillan wait and wait as he made his ring walk Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood.
Then, when he did, the crowd came alive: "Rocha! Rocha! Rocha!"
Giovani Santillan silences Rocha's support a vicious win
Santillan finished Rocha, in style, in only six rounds as he etches his name alongside Emmanuel Navarette when it comes to winning brutally but beautifully in 2023 — an ongoing year of big fights and even bigger performances.
And the 31-year-old showed very early how bad his intentions were in this fight as he bloodied Rocha's nose in the first, which started gushing even more profusely by the second.
ProBox TV had heard throughout the week that these two welterweights knew each other well. So well, in fact, that they'd sparred around 50 rounds with one another with the most recent session earlier this year.
But, make no mistake, people. There were no niceties in the ring. These weren't fighters who were treating each other like training partners as they treated one another like they were owed money.
It wasn't just money at stake this weekend as the winner — with Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. looking likely to move to 154-pounds — would be in prime position to usher in a new era at 147.
This was about the promise of championships, fame, and legacy. And boy, did Rocha and Santillan fight like that.
Unperturbed by the blood, Rocha fought his way back into the bout in the second and third, with shots to the body, but it was still not yet enough to swing any of those rounds in his favor, as Santillan combined aggression with accuracy.
In the middle rounds and likely 4-0 down, it was clear Rocha — the pre-fight favorite — needed something big to swing the momentum in his favor.
But this slug-fest was Santillan's to own as he sent Rocha crashing to the canvas with heavy punches in the fifth round. Rocha needed a lot of time to get back up, and was down again moments later but it was ruled a slip.
All this did was rouse Santillan, who clobbered Rocha so hard the sweat flew off his head.
Rocha got a moment's respite when the referee warned Santillan about punching to the back of the head.
Despite the rest, all the momentum remained with Santillan who dropped Rocha hard for a second time in the fight with it looking likelier that the referee, or Rocha's trainer Hector Lopez, could stop the bout unless Rocha delivered something big after losing a 10-7 round.
Rocha then went out into the sixth, but it was a round he never finished as Santillan closed the show with an uppercut, right hands, and lefts.
It was a brutal end to a brutal fight.
But an incredible win, and performance, for Santillan.
This time, it was Rocha's turn to feel what Santillan felt at the start. Even loneliner than being made to wait in the ring for a fight, is the cold world that awaits after a boxer on the rise suffers an upset knockout loss, in a fight in which he was expected to win.
In a year that has delivered big fights, Santillan wrote his name alongside the likes of Navarette and Terence Crawford when it came to the most exciting performances that only a sport like boxing can provide.
Victory advanced the unbeaten San Diego boxer's record to 32 (17 KOs), as Santillan now proceeds further to a well-deserved world title shot.