Saturday night could not have been any better for Giovani Santillan. 

Not only did Santillan defeat Alexis Rocha by knockout, but he became a legit contender in a competitive welterweight division.

Santillan dropped Rocha three times en route to a sixth round knockout win at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The San Diego resident improved to 32-0, 17 knockouts.

From the opening bell, the underdog Santillan was the aggressor, initiating exchanges and putting Rocha on the defensive. Rocha never got anything going offensively, choosing to stand and trade with Santillan, but would receive vicious hooks and crosses to the head, causing bruising around his eyes and blood to come out of his nose.

The southpaw Santillan would drop Rocha twice during the fifth round and once more in the sixth before referee Ray Corona waved the fight off to save Rocha from receiving further punishment. 

Rocha, who grew up in Santa Ana, California and is the younger brother of former world junior featherweight title challenger Ronny Rios, falls to 23-2, 15 KOs. 

Santillan and Rocha were sparring partners over several years ago. Santillan was able to secure the fight against Rocha on Saturday night through a deal between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Rocha. 

The 31-year-old Santillan has been working with trainer Robert Garcia for the last couple of years. Garcia was not only grateful Top Rank, which now promotes Santillan, was able to secure the fight against Rocha, but that Santillan was able to capitalize on the opportunity.

“I am very proud of Giovani’s performance,” Garcia told BoxingScene Saturday night after the fight. “I know Giovani was waiting for this opportunity for a while and he took advantage of it. 

“I thought Rocha would box a little more, but I think it was Giovani’s strength and power that Rocha felt and couldn’t do anything about it. We all thought it was gonna be a very tough (and) difficult fight.”

Santillan is co-trained by his father Guillermo and Garcia.

With the win, Santillan, who is managed by David McWater, becomes the mandatory challenger to face Terence Crawford, the current undisputed welterweight champion. In his previous fight on July 22, Santillan defeated Erick Bone by unanimous decision. 

Saturday’s win over Rocha was Santillan’s seventh fight under the Top Rank banner. He previously was signed with Thompson Boxing Promotions. 

Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing