Mikey Garcia demolishes Elio Rojas for a TKO victory in return to the ring

NEW YORK -- Former two-division titleholder Mikey Garcia returned from a two-and-a-half-year layoff looking sharp.

Garcia scored four knockdowns en route to a punishing, fifth-round knockout of former featherweight titleholder Elio Rojas, who was coming off a 23-month layoff, in a junior welterweight fight on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The fight, which was the co-feature of featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz's defense against Carl Frampton, was Garcia's first since he outpointed Juan Carlos Burgos in defense of a junior lightweight world title on Jan. 25, 2014.

"I think it was a very good performance," Garcia said. "Even though I've been out for two-and-a-half years, people haven't forgotten about me. I did miss [boxing], but the time off helped me regain that fire."

Garcia, a former featherweight titlist, wound up in the long layoff because of a protracted legal battle over his contract with former promoter Top Rank, with whom he was unhappy despite being on the verge of his first seven-figure purse and a strong push from the company. The case was settled a few months ago, and Garcia became a free agent, which enabled him to return to face Rojas on a one-fight deal with promoter Lou DiBella and Showtime.

Considering the layoff, Garcia looked dialed in from the outset in an explosive performance. Referee Eddie Claudio appeared to miss a knockdown in the first round, when Garcia landed a right hand to the body and Rojas went down to the mat. Claudio, however, ruled it a slip.

In the third round, Garcia scored two big knockdowns that were unmistakable. He drilled Rojas with a chopping right hand that sent him to the canvas midway through the round and landed another right hand on the button moments later. That dropped Rojas again.

Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs), 28, of Riverside, California, continued to paste Rojas (24-3, 14 KOs), 33, of the Dominican Republic, with shots in the fourth round, eliciting chats from the crowd of "Mikey! Mikey!"

In the fifth round, Garcia planted Rojas face-first with a left hand, then dropped him with a right uppercut-left hook combination. Rojas, fighting for only the second time in four years, beat the count, but Claudio waved it off at 2 minutes, 2 seconds.

One of the reasons Garcia, who might go down to lightweight to pursue a title shot, looked as sharp as he did was probably that he stayed in his brother and trainer Robert Garcia's gym throughout the layoff, sparring with many of the talented fighters who work there.

"I think it's too soon to make an assessment [on where I'm at], but I do feel just as good [as before the layoff]," Garcia said.

Harrison KOs Rabchenko in eliminator

Detroit junior middleweight Tony Harrison moved a step closer to a world title shot with a ninth-round knockout of plodding Sergey Rabchenko, who beforehand called the fight the most important of his career but did not fight that way.

Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) dominated the lackluster fight until landing a massive right hand in the ninth round, which sent Rabchenko (27-2, 20 KOs) backward and to a knee. He beat the count, and referee Arthur Mercante gave him a long look but elected to stop the fight at 1 minute, 18 seconds.

"This is definitely my biggest win ever. I'm thankful to my team for getting me ready," Harrison said. "I was luring him to sleep. I kept jabbing and ended up in the corner. My trainer told me that I would have the right hand behind the jab, and that's what happened.

"I'm a finisher. I had him hurt, and I said to the ref, 'You better not let him go.' I knew I had him beat."

With the win -- in a fight the crowd booed because of the lack of action -- Harrison earned the No. 2 position in a sanctioning body's rankings to put him in position for an eventual shot against world titleholder Jermall Charlo, whose immediate mandatory fight against Julian "J Rock" Williams is slated to take place this fall.

"A focused Tony Harrison can beat anybody at 154 pounds," Harrison said. "Now it's on to [the winner of] Jermall Charlo and Julian Williams. I'm in the catbird seat."

Harrison, 25, was sharp with his jab, which he kept in the slower Rabchenko's face as he piled up points throughout the fight. Former two-division titleholder Ricky Hatton, the British star, trains Rabchenko, 30, a former European champion from Belarus, and was animated in his corner. Even so, nothing worked, as Rabchenko generally threw one punch at a time and rarely connected with authority.

"I didn't throw enough punches," Rabchenko said. "I kept relying on my defense and didn't attack enough. I was looking for one shot, and it was difficult to do it against Tony Harrison with one punch. The ref did a great job with the stoppage. My health is first and foremost. The health of any fighter is the most important thing. I knew I couldn't continue."

Harrison won his third fight in a row since an upset, ninth-round, knockout loss to Willie Nelson last July.

  • Welterweight Paulie Malignaggi (36-7, 7 KOs) outpointed longtime neighborhood pal Gabriel "Tito" Bracero (24-3, 5 KOs) in a fight for the symbolic Brooklyn title belt.

    It was a fight years in the making, and the Brooklyn crowd cheered both in the fight between two 35-year-olds near the end of their careers. The fighters kissed each other on the cheek after the final bell in a show of respect.

    Malignaggi, a former welterweight and junior welterweight world titleholder, used his superior jab to control the fight. He won 98-92, 98-92 and 96-94. ESPN.com had Malignaggi winning 97-93.

    "I knew Bracero was a counter-puncher like myself​.​ I was just trying to be the sharper counter-puncher," Malignaggi said. "We both try to set traps, and I just wanted to make him earn any points​ that​ he got. At the same time, I felt like I had to earn my points. I dictated the fight with pot shots and stepping over.

    "I didn't want to get desperate. I wanted to force him to get desperate from being behind on the scorecards. I think I did a good job of that."

    Malignaggi won his third fight in a row since a ninth-round, knockout loss to Danny Garcia in August at Barclays Center.

    After the fight, Malignaggi took his place ringside to call the Showtime-televised bouts in his role as analyst.

    "I'm excited to call the fights tonight," he said. "I'm a fan before I'm a fighter. I'm excited to go to work right now. I'm going to head to Italy on Tuesday, take a vacation and then think about my future."

  • Philadelphia lightweight Tevin Farmer (22-4-1, 5 KOs) put on a clinic against Ivan Redkach (19-2-1, 15 KOs) in a unanimous decision win that extended his win streak to 15. Farmer started fast and never let up in a crowd-pleasing fight. He was quicker and more accurate with his punches, and he fought well on the inside and outside against Redkach, a former amateur standout from Ukraine now based in Los Angeles.

    The judges scored the fight 99-89, 98-90 and 98-90. ESPN.com also had Farmer winning 97-93.

    "I'm proud of my performance tonight. I worked hard in camp, and my team did a great job getting me ready," Farmer said. "I was very confident that I would be victorious as long as I executed the game plan, and that's what I did.

    "I want a world title. I'm going to go back to 130 pounds, and I feel like I'm ready for a title shot. If I have to fight an eliminator I will. I won't back down from any challenge."

    Farmer was sharp with his right hands to the head and left uppercuts. But he landed a bad low blow that sent Redkach, 30, to the mat in the ninth round and was warned for the infraction. In the ninth round, however, it was Redkach, 1-2-1 in his last four bouts, who lost a point when referee Arthur Mercante docked him for head-butting the 25-year-old Farmer, who has not lost since an eighth-round knockout in 2012 to Jose Pedraza, who went on to win a junior lightweight world title.

    "I beat him down," Farmer said. "I was the more experienced fighter, and I came in with more rounds and with better opponents on my resume."

  • Brooklyn featherweight Amanda Serrano (29-1-1, 22 KOs) knocked out Calixta Silgado (14-7-3, 9 KOs), of Colombia, in the first round to retain her women's world title for the first time. Serrano dropped her with a body shot, and referee Benjy Esteves called off the fight at 1 minute, 40 seconds.

  • Middleweight Conrad Cummings (10-0-1, 4 KOs), of Northern Ireland, won a unanimous decision in a hard-fought slugfest with Cleveland's Dante Moore (9-2-2, 4 KOs). The judges scored the fight 59-53, 58-54 and 58-54. Moore was docked a point for spitting out his mouthpiece in the sixth round. He lost his mouthpiece several times during the fight.

  • Junior welterweight Josh Taylor (6-0, 6 KOs), of Scotland, knocked out Evincii Dixon (7-15-1, 2 KOs), of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the second round. He knocked Dixon down with a left hand, and though he finished the round, the fight was called off after the second round.

  • South Korean junior welterweight Min-Wook Kim (16-1, 12 KOs), trained by Jose Santa Cruz, father of Leo Santa Cruz, destroyed Louis Cruz (11-2, 5 KOs), of Bronx, New York, dropping him three times in the opening round for the knockout victory.

    Cruz was coming off an eight-round decision loss, but Kim took him out viciously by dropping him with clean right hands all three times. After the third knockdown, referee Eddie Claudio waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 33 seconds.

  • Huntington Park, California, featherweight Jose Gomez (8-0, 3 KOs) dropped Josh Crespo (6-4-3, 2 KOs), of New Haven, Connecticut, in the first round. Even though he beat the count, Crespo was in no shape to go on, and referee Arthur Mercante waved off the bout at 2 minutes, 31 seconds.