Antonio Cervantes was out before he hit the canvas. And Dannie Williams leapt to the corner turnbuckle with his arms down and his smile wide.
There is no sound in sports that matches the burst of a crowd when a hometown prizefighter lands a coldblooded one-punch knockout.
They jumped and shouted as Williams bounced around the ring and pumped his fists in victory.
"Oh! You see that, boy?!" said one man in the crowd.
"He killed that dude!" said another.
"Look at him, he's still down!" said another.
Cervantes remained flat and still, surrounded by doctors and his cornermen. It would be three or four or five long minutes before he was helped to his feet. Thousands of miles away from his home in Ensenada, Mexico, he was casualty to this jubilation.
The referee, Steve Smoger, leaned through the ropes, shook his head, and said to one of the judges, "It's a lonely feeling."After entering the ring to live a capella rap from local artist Oops, Williams dominated the fight from bell to sudden finish: three rounds and change of sticks and moves and blazing combinations. He opened the fight with vicious body blows and precise jabs, weaving around Cervates and setting him up with a diverse arsenal of punches from every angle. After forcing Cervantes' hands down with a parade of hooks to the body, he knocked him down in the first round with distracting right jab and a perfect straight left.
Williams is fast, not in a slick way, but in a shifty way. He squared up, fired and slid to the side, then squared up, fired and slid to the side. His lead jabs struck before Cervantes could react and his movement consistently drew Cervantes forward, opening him up for the counter combos -- left jab to the head, straight right to the body, left hook to that sweet spot just below the ribs.
"My key to him is patience," trainer Jack Loew said after the fight. "It's only gonna take one shot, I don't care who you are in the lightweight division."
So Willaims sat back then pounced then moved then sat back again, waiting for Cervantes to make a mistake. A minute into the fourth round, he made that mistake, lunging forward to try to land a left hand. Williams caught him flush on the chin with a sick right hook from the basement.
"I felt it in all the right hand," Williams would say later.
He climbed out of the ring, walked over to his long-time friend Devon Alexander, sitting ringside, and the two fighters handshake-hugged. Bernard Hopkins, doing play by play for the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights telecast, shook Williams' hand and said something into his ear.
Williams had a bounce in his step as he strolled through the Ameristar ballroom, posing for photos with spectators on his way the the locker room, where he was joined by his entourage of friends.
"You caught him at the right time!" said one of his friends, as they slapped palms.
"Now that's a knock out!" said another friend.
"You hear what they were saying on ESPN?" said another.
Williams whipped off his shirt and tape into a corner of the bare room. He and Loew embraced.
"You're gonna be a star!" said Loew, who seemed more excited than anyone else. "Beautiful fight! Just remember what Bernard said: keep it all grounded."
It would be a good night for St. Louis boxing. Keandre Gibson, a young local welterweight with Mayweather-swagger and hammers for fists, won an impressive unanimous decision, showcasing his heavy hands, inside game and ring-rattling power to improve his record to 4-0. Stephon Young, in his professional debut, also won an impressive unanimous decision. While he was wild and loose at times (likely a product of the nervous energy that accompanies the transition into big league prizefighting), his combos were blinding and, when he boxed, his technique was sharp. And on top of it all, Nelly was in the building.
But tonight was "Dangerous" Dannie Williams' night.
"This is a huge step for him," said Loew. "Everybody pays to see the knockout. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is."
Inside the locker room, still drunk with the adrenaline that comes with a big time boxing win, Williams approached Loew and pulled up his right hand. His middle knuckle was mildly swollen.
"Look at that," said Williams, peeking upwards with a proud grin.
Loew patted him on the shoulder and Williams moved back to the corner to unstrap his gear.
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