Alexis Rocha spent the entire pre-fight buildup fielding questions about a potential shot at WBO welterweight champion Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford.
If such a fight is on the horizon, the fighting pride of Santa Ana, California made an emphatic statement to plead his case.
A vicious right hook by Rocha sent Ghana’s George Ashie face-first to the canvas, forcing an immediate stoppage in their DAZN-aired main event Saturday evening at YouTube Theater in Inglewood, California. Rocha scored two knockdowns on the night, the latter producing the end of the fight at of round seven.
The win not only extended Rocha’s current six-fight win streak but preserved his place in line as—for the moment—the highest ranked available contender for Crawford’s WBO crown.
“I'm ready for the big names,” Rocha told DAZN’s Chris Mannix. “Errol Spence doesn't want to fight Crawford for some reason. He's fighting [former unified WBC/WBA welterweight titlist Keith] Thurman. I'm next in the WBO, I want Crawford next."
Crawford met with Golden Boy Promotions, Rocha’s promoter, long enough for a photo opportunity. The social media posts documenting the session immediately went viral, and provided the motivation for Rocha to send a message.
Ashie entered the fight on very short notice, replacing an injured Anthony ‘Juice’ Young at the start of fight week. The assignment meant a move up in weight—and class—for the Accra, Ghana native, a career lightweight who only recently began to campaign in the 140-pound junior welterweight division.
Rocha didn’t waste any time to make his presence felt. The 25-year-old southpaw worked his jab and consistently landed a sharp left to the body. The lone critique from his corner was to throw more combinations downstairs and not just settle for one punch at a time.
Ashie asserted himself more in round two, growing more comfortable and confident in what was easily the biggest fight of his 19-year career. Rocha landed the more telling blows, including a straight left hand to the chin. Ashie took the shots well and also landed a right hand upstairs.
Rocha stepped up his attack early in round three. A straight left hand sent Ashie across the ring, with Rocha’s ensuing attack dulled by frequent clinching from the 38-year-old journeyman. Referee Thomas Taylor issued a warning for excessive holding by Ashie, whose head was snapped back by left hands and right hooks by Rocha in the final minute.
A right hook by Rocha sent Ashie crashing to the canvas in the closing seconds of round three. Ashie made it to his feet and the bell but staggered to his corner, with his training team doing their best to revive him prior to the start of round four.
Rocha had Ashie pinned along the ropes for much of round four, landing an alarming number of power shots. Ashie would throw back just enough to avoid a stoppage, winging right hands around the high guard of Rocha who threw his left hand and right hook with knockout intentions.
Ashie continued to show far more will than skill, though it was enough to extend the fight into the middle rounds. Rocha stood directly in front of his outgunned foe in round five, cracking Ashie with a right hook across the chin. Ashie responded with left hooks that hand minimal impact but were enough to at least get Rocha’s attention.
Rocha returned to the body in round six, though one left hand strayed below the belt. Time was called as Ashie was given time to continue, but Rocha was dealt a harsher blow as a clash of heads left the streaking contender with a gushing cut over his left eye.
“It didn’t change things,” Rocha insisted. “You roll with the punches and keep moving forward. I have a great team, a great cutman (Cesar Campos) who handled it.”
A left hand drove Ashie into a corner early in round seven. Rocha refused to let him off the hook, going left-heavy in keeping the Ghanaian boxer on the ropes. It was a savage right hook, however, that would produce the end of the fight. The shot landed clean across the chin of Ashie, who was splattered on the canvas as the referee waved off the contest without issuing a count.
The stateside debut for Ashie ended with his first defeat in more than four years as he fell 33-6-2 (25KOs).
Rocha improved to 22-1 with fourteen knockouts. The win was his sixth in a row since an October 2020 defeat to Rashidi Ellis, including now having stopped each of his last five opponents.
The run includes a ninth-round knockout of unbeaten Blair Cobbs in their makeshift DAZN headliner last March 19 at USC Galen Center in Los Angeles. The show was to have been headlined by Vergil Ortiz Jr. (19-0, 19KOs), who was hospitalized and was forced to withdraw just ahead of fight week.
Ortiz rescheduled his planned bout with unbeaten contender Michael McKinson for last August 13, scoring a ninth-round knockout to become the mandatory challenger for WBA ‘Regular’ welterweight titlist Eimantas Stanionis. The two are due to meet on April 19 in the greater Dallas area where Ortiz is based, thus removing him from the mix in the WBO where he is also ranked number-one.
Rocha is number three in the same rankings, one spot below Thurman (30-1, 22KOs) who will face Spence—the reigning WBA/WBC/IBF welterweight titlist whose belts won’t be at stake for their meeting targeted for late spring.
That leaves Rocha in prime position to next challenge Crawford (39-0, 30KOs), who is without an opponent or fight date but is eager to back in the ring sooner rather than later.
There is a theory that the still-developing contender is biting off more than he can chew in calling out the unbeaten three-division champ and highly regarded pound-for-pound entrant. Rocha has a theory of his own—that you miss one hundred percent of the shots that you do not take.
“[Crawford] is the fight that I want next, let’s go,” insisted Rocha. “Everyone always asks me if I’m ready. I won’t know until I’m in there with him. I’m ready for the big names. I know whoever I fight, I’m gonna take it up every level, every step.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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