For two months after his fight with Rashidi Ellis, Alexis Rocha says he would go for a run every day and think about what went wrong. As he would stride up and down the streets of Santa Ana, he would go round by round, dissecting scenarios in which minor changes would have resulted in a win rather than his first career loss. But sometime around the two month mark, he had an awakening. Worrying about how to beat Ellis wasn’t going to help him in the immediate future, for one, and also he concluded that the issues that caused him to lose were simply his own, rather than being outclassed by a superior opponent.

More than anything though, after overanalyzing and stewing over the loss, he felt a certain freedom. The pressure that he’d felt to maintain a perfect record was gone. He said he felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. From that day forward, Rocha says his self-belief was “on a new level.”

It was that composure and self-assuredness that propelled him to a career-best win on Saturday night, a ninth-round KO victory over Blair Cobbs in the main event of a card from the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles aired on DAZN.

For the entirety of the bout, Rocha applied constant, ominous pressure on Cobbs. Rocha never wavered from his belief that he would break Cobbs down, that his jabs to the body and his overhand lefts could hurt him. He wasn’t without resistance, of course. Cobbs threw power shots while on the move, attempted to get Rocha out of sorts with ambush flurries, and trash talked him in his pro wrestling style while he was doing it. But while Cobbs was moving, chatting and going for home run shots, Rocha maintained a tight guard and close proximity, forcing Cobbs to work twice as hard as he was and be twice as careful in the process. 

“During the exchanges, he would hit me and he would woo,” Rocha told reporters following the fight, video of which was uploaded by FightHub. “I knew he was going to do that. If he landed a good shot, I would smile right back at him.”

Rocha hurt Cobbs for the first time in the fifth round, landing a straight left hand that caused Cobbs to fall in, and a series of additional lefts with his free hand as Cobbs tried to fight back when perhaps he should have held on tightly. Cobbs’ insistence upon fighting back when he was hurt would get him in trouble during the fight, but is also what made the fight as entertaining as it was. A near identical scenario would present itself for Rocha in the eighth, except this time it was a right hook that landed and seemed to hoist Cobbs off the mat before planting him there for a knockdown. 

In between the eighth and ninth rounds, Cobbs’ trainer Freddie Roach threatened to stop the fight, telling his fighter he was “getting f------ killed in there.” But Cobbs’ courageous and dramatic instincts worked against him. Less than a minute into the ninth, Rocha landed a combination on the ropes which nearly had Cobbs’ arm tangled in the top strand. With Cobbs’ mouthpiece on the floor, he kept trying to throw, and kept getting hit. With the referee wrapped around him waving the fight off, he was still moving his hands, maybe cognizant, maybe not, throwing a shoeshine combination to the midsection of the official. 

The story of the fight inside the ropes was also the story that sold the fight: Cobbs’ bombast against Rocha’s composure. The classic heel vs. babyface matchup in the spirit of the wrestling-style promotion Cobbs has utilized to great degree throughout his career. Even with the loss of the scheduled main event between Vergil Ortiz and Michael McKinson and with fans offered the option of a refund, the arena was loud and invested in the matchup.

With the victory, Rocha establishes himself as a contender of note at 147 pounds. And although he would certainly like to avenge his loss to Ellis at some point, Rocha has scored three straight knockouts since that fight, while Ellis has unfortunately not fought at all. In terms of who of the two fighters is top of mind for the boxing public and more likely to get a major opportunity, it is likely Rocha. 

With a new level of maturity, comfort in himself but also an understanding of the feeling of the sport’s pitfalls, Rocha turned his attention to his fallen opponent following the bout. Although the two had exchanged barbs leading up to the fight, it was all in good spirit. The two had been friendly enough that Cobbs was even on the ring apron in Rocha’s corner following his 2021 win over Jeovanis Barraza (Rocha says Cobbs did it all on his own, but he wasn’t bothered by it).

When asked about some of the messages boxing fans were directing towards Cobbs, Rocha came to his defense before offering up the lesson that helped turn his own career back around. 

“That's not cool. That's not cool at all. As fighters, we sacrifice so much. It's so easy to be on your couch and criticize these fighters. I haven't seen my friends, my family, my girlfriend in weeks. I literally go to the gym, come back, work out again. It's exhausting, you miss your people. And then you have to go out and put your health on the line. Strangers critiquing you, talking this and that, it's not cool at all,” said Rocha. “Blair, pick yourself back up man. I know you carry that confidence within yourself. You just need to carry that confidence and go back in the ring.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman