LAS VEGAS — Mexican-born bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz used a vicious body attack and relentless pressure that forced veteran Eric Morel to retire on his stool prior to the sixth round of their IBF title bout for a Showtime-televised TKO at the MGM Grand on Saturday.
In victory, Santa Cruz, 24, improved to 21-0-1, with his 12th knockout, a performance that happened on the undercard of a main event featuring WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against Josesito Lopez.
Morel (46-4, 23 KOs), who turns 37 in October, was stopped for the first time in his career and was coming off a unanimous decision loss to Abner Mares in a failed bid to earn the WBC’s junior featherweight belt.
“I’m really happy with the way that I won. I wanted to stop him. That was my plan,” said Santa Cruz. “I attacked the body and I wanted to break him down, little by little. I used my jabs a lot.”
Morel’s winning streak of 11 straight fights was ended by Mares, who was at ringside.
“I just wasn’t expecting that type of pressure. The constant pressure, I just wasn’t prepared for it,” said Morel. “I’m not sure if I’m going to continue to fight or now.”
Santa Cruz was coming off June’s unanimous decision over South African lefthander Vusi Malinga, which earned him the vacant belt.
In the night’s first bout, junior middleweight Eddie Gomez (10-0, 7 KOs), of the Bronx, N.Y., scored a third-round knockout over Quinton Whitaker (9-10, 5 KOs), of San Antonio, Tex.
Next up was Mexico City junior lightweight Francisco Vargas (12-0-1, 9 KOs) scoring a unanimous decision over Victor Sanchez (3-4-1), of Houston, Tex., ending what had been a streak of nine straight knockout victories by Vargas.
In another junior lightweight clash, Sergio Thompson (23-2, 21 KOs), of Chetumai, Mex., stopped Carlos Claudio (15-9-3, 8 KOs), of Guayama, P.R., for his eighth consecutive knockout win.
Junior featherweight Andres Gutierrez (23-0-1, 19 KOs), of Guadalajara, Mex., unanimously decisioned Carlos Valcarcel (12-6-4, 5 KOs), of Catana, P.R., who suffered his fourth straight loss.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com