LOS ANGELES -- Gervonta Davis shot to stardom with the support of Floyd Mayweather and a bundle of explosive knockouts.
"Tank" had Mayweather, his promoter and mentor, watching from ringside, but the fight-ending shot never materialized. In fact, Isaac Cruz, a major underdog from Mexico, never appeared to be in any danger at all.
Davis (26-0, 24 KOs) didn't deliver the kind of spectacular performance fans were expecting, but he retained his secondary WBA lightweight title with a tougher-than-expected unanimous decision victory over Cruz on Sunday before an announced attendance of 15,580 at Staples Center.
Two judges scored it 115-113 with a third tally of 116-112 for the Baltimore native. This was the first time Davis was extended the 12-round distance. The 27-year-old's only other decision victory: a six-rounder in 2014, his ninth pro fight.
"I hurt my hand so I couldn't get him out of there," said Davis, a southpaw who barely threw a left hand over the final two rounds. "He's a shorter fighter so I was throwing down on the top of his head. I hit him with my knuckle and messed it up. I hurt my hand in the sixth round."
"It was right around the fifth round I saw that his hand wasn't working correctly," Cruz said through an interpreter.
The extent of the injury -- and how it impacted him -- is unclear at this juncture, but it's apparent that Davis failed to impress at a time when the lightweight division is hotter than ever. One day earlier, Devin Haney proved his mettle with a win over Joseph Diaz Jr. And last week, George Kambosos Jr. stunned Teofimo Lopez to win the undisputed lightweight championship in the most impressive performance of the bunch.
"Either guy is easy work, easy work, easy work man," Davis said of Ryan Garcia, Kambosos and Haney. "I'm the top dog."
When it comes to star power, there's no doubt he is. But on Sunday night, Cruz gave Davis fits. He did so by applying pressure accompanied by a focused body attack, particularly a left hook that Cruz sunk to the liver. But oftentimes, Cruz was simply following Davis around the ring.
"Pitbull" rarely utilized a jab to close distance. Instead, he elected to plow forward and wing wild shots. He connected on just nine jabs in the Showtime PPV main event; Davis landed 20. The difference in the fight was Davis' cleaner punching and distance control.
The former 130-pound titleholder usually fights far more aggressively, but against Cruz, he chose to box off the back foot and attempted to use his opponent's aggression against him. Time and again, Davis was able to lead Cruz into a damaging counter left uppercut. When Davis landed that punch against Leo Santa Cruz last October, he produced one of the best knockouts of 2020.
But Cruz (22-2-1, 15 KOs) surprisingly ate the shots and kept moving forward.
"That's my style, 'Pitbull' is always going to be on the attack," said Cruz, 23. "I think we retained rhythm from the start to the end. If the fans want to see a rematch, we'll do it."
"Hell no," Davis replied when asked if a return bout was warranted.
In a sometimes difficult-to-score affair, Cruz won the opening round on all three cards, before Tank swept the following two rounds. Davis also won Rounds 5, 6 and 7 unanimously before the fight truly heated up.
Cruz won the final four rounds on one card, while Davis won Round 12 on another to avoid the draw.
"The fans are speaking on who won this fight," said Cruz, who was met by a shower of cheers after his spirited effort. He accepted the fight on about a month's notice after Rolando Romero was removed from the bout following a sexual assault allegation.
"They wanted 'Tank' to knock this guy out," Mayweather said. "Since he didn't get the knockout tonight, now he lost. It's bulls---."
The bout was Davis' first at 135 pounds since a 12th-round TKO of Yuriorkis Gamboa in December 2019. His last outing came at 140 pounds, an 11th-round TKO of Mario Barrios in June. The Santa Cruz bout was contested at 130.
Which weight Davis campaigns at going forward is unclear. So is the timeframe he'll be ready to return to the ring.
"I gotta get the hand checked out," Davis said. "It is what it is. That's what comes with this sport."
What also comes with boxing is the unexpected. Just like Kambosos did one week ago by winning the lightweight championship, Cruz shocked the world by pushing Davis to the brink.
And just like that, boxing's hottest division welcomes yet another player.