Gervonta Davis (26-0, 24 KOs) didn't get the brutal knockout that fans have come to expect from him, but he still ended the night as a champion in one of the more difficult fights of his career.
The 27-year-old retained the WBA secondary lightweight title with a unanimous-decision victory over Isaac Cruz (22-2-1, 15 KOs) on Sunday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The judges scored the bout 116-112, 115-113, 115-113 in favor of Davis.
Nothing came easy in this bout for Davis. Cruz applied pressure from the get-go, forcing the three-division champion to fight off his back foot. Davis remained composed throughout the bout, impressing the judges with his counterpunching and timing. Afterward, Davis said he hurt his left hand during the fight, per the Showtime pay-per-view broadcast.
This is only the second time the undefeated Davis has failed to record a stoppage. The first came early in his career against German Meraz in a six-round bout that Davis won by unanimous decision. This is the second loss for the 23-year-old Cruz, who was added to the card in October as a replacement fighter for Rolando Romero.
While a loud contingent of fans at Staples Center felt that Cruz did enough to earn a win, the Compubox numbers showed it was a close fight, with Davis edging out his Mexican counterpart in total punches landed.
Lightweight contender Ryan Garcia was quick to call out "Tank" on social media after the bout.
For his part, Davis remains confident he's the man to beat at 135 pounds.
It didn't take long for Cruz to show why he's earned the nickname "Pitbull." Fighting from a low crouch, he went right after Davis in the first round. His first big punch was a right hook to the midsection that caused Davis to stumble, and then he landed a thudding combination toward the end of the frame.
To his credit, the early push didn't rattle Davis. The Baltimore native bounced back in the second round, finding opportunities to throw some counter uppercuts that had night-ending potential, but either missed the mark or hit Cruz's gloves. With his power, though, sometimes catching the gloves on the way in still works.
Davis appeared to fall in love with launching the uppercut, a tempting punch considering what he's done with it in the past. While he focused on getting the timing down for his big counters, Cruz kept coming forward and digging away at the body.
It was clear Cruz wanted to frustrate the champion and chop away at the body, banking on his chin to hold up as Davis continued to fire away with uppercuts and straight lefts. It was effective for a time, as Davis struggled to get off the back foot and throw more than one or two big punches at a time.
The sixth and seventh rounds saw Davis step up the aggression and get Cruz moving backward. It allowed him to get his jab going a bit more, which only added to the steady flow of punishment heading in Cruz's direction. Cruz refused to go away quietly, and he kept firing away with short, compact punches. When Cruz really loaded up on his shots, however, Davis did well to sidestep or duck them.
Just when it seemed like Davis might take control of the bout, Cruz had a resurgence in the final rounds. Davis was clearly favoring his left hand and was unwilling to use it, giving Cruz an opportunity to assert himself. He stalked Davis around the ring, getting in close and throwing hard punches, searching for the upset but not doing enough to sway the judges.
While Davis kept his perfect record intact, it's something of a disappointing night for him. He didn't dominate an opponent working on short notice, and now the southpaw has to deal with an injury to his powerful left hand.
The injury and inspired performance from Cruz did allow Davis to show off other aspects of his game beyond his power—skills that he will have to continue to sharpen if he wants to continue his quest toward superstardom.