COLUMBIA, S.C., AUG. 22 -- Marlon Starling's 20-year quest ended today when he knocked out Mark Breland in the 11th round to take the WBA welterweight title.

Breland (18-1), a former Olympic hero, had never been knocked down.

"I can now say to my fans, my friends, I beat the system," said Starling, who began boxing 20 years ago and turned pro in 1979. "I'm the champ of the world . . .

"I'm drained. I feel the whole 20 years are on my shoulder right now. I can take about a 20-year vacation."

Starling landed three straight rights in Breland's corner and then put him to the canvas with a left hook with 1:38 left in the 11th round. Breland tried to get up but couldn't.

"I knew I was going to get him in the late rounds," Starling said. "I hit him with a couple of body shots. I think he did something wrong then and, instead of weaving to the right, he made a mistake and weaved back to the left and I caught him with the left and caught him with another left hook.

"There were so many punches coming," Breland said, "I didn't want to count them. I heard the referee counting. I wanted to tell him to hold on a second, help me up."

Starling is 42-4 with 26 knockouts.

Starling pushed Breland around throughout, shoving him to the canvas several times. Referee Tony Perez took a point from Starling in the sixth.

Breland was ahead on all three judges cards: 97-92, 96-91 and 99-89. There were no other knockdowns and neither fighter was in serious trouble until the 11th.

"I thought I was winning the fight," Breland said. "I got hit in the side and I felt the pain."

Trainer Joe Fariello said Breland suffered cartilage damage to his left ribs eight days ago while training for the fight and reinjured himself in the sixth or seventh round.

Breland said he and Fariello discussed calling off the fight.

"After every fight there is an injury," Starling retorted.