Fresh off his victory WBA featherweight world titlist, Leo Santa Cruz, with nary a bruise or cut after 12 furious rounds against a young Mexican star, looked content, but not 100 percent.
With 38 pro bouts under his belt, all that is left is a defining moment. Time is running out for the 30-year-old fighter who previously won bantamweight and super bantamweight world titles in his career.
Also known as “El Terremoto,” Santa Cruz is thirsty for super stardom, or at least a legacy defining moment and he knows exactly where to get it.
After beating replacement fighter Rafael Rivera in a spirited but one-sided battle, he wants to be recognized as one of the best lower weight fighters of his generation. Santa Cruz has a fighting style that usually leads to early retirement. Yet he has been able to maintain elite status despite two wars against United Kingdom’s Carl Frampton and two against Abner Mares.
What he needs is an emphatic victory against a recognized named champion. Some names that come to mind are either Gary Russell Jr. or Oscar Valdez.
Russell holds the WBC featherweight title and Valdez wears the WBO featherweight belt. Both are young impressive champions who have emerged as definite threats to Santa Cruz.
“I would love a fight against Gary Russell Jr. or Oscar Valdez,” said Santa Cruz after his win against Rivera at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A. “Both are very good champions and either would make a great fight.”
Coming From A LA Boxing Family
It’s all a matter of weight and time for Santa Cruz, who grew up in Los Angeles with brothers who were equally involved in the world of prizefighting.
When Santa Cruz first emerged in the professional scene most of the major boxing promotions took a look at his style and body frame and took a pass. It could have been a major bubble burst for the youngest of the Santa Cruz boxing clan. Instead, Santa Cruz signed with a new promotion company and accepted all challenges.
Slowly but surely fans began to gather wherever Santa Cruz appeared on a boxing card. He fought in cold outdoor fights at swap meets and hot desert casinos such as the Morongo Casino. He continued to win and continued to impress.
For three years Santa Cruz out-punched, out-brawled the opposition with a hurricane-like style of pressure that confused everyone in front of him. Suddenly, after gaining man strength, those decision victories turned into knockout wins. Nine consecutive knockout wins showed he had arrived.
On June 2012, Santa Cruz challenged South Africa’s Vusi Malinga for the vacant IBF bantamweight world title. He won by unanimous decision against the crafty southpaw and proved he was a world-class fighter to be recognized.
After three successful title defenses Santa Cruz moved up to super bantamweight and defeated WBC champion Victor Terrazas by third round knockout. Four more title defenses followed before the thin-framed super bantamweight killer moved up yet another division – the featherweights.
What’s Next For “El Terremoto”
On August 2015, Santa Cruz challenged Abner Mares in a battle between Southern California’s multiple-division world champions. After beating Mares by close decision and winning another defense at featherweight, he met Frampton in a battle between undefeated featherweights in New York. He lost. He then avenged that loss with a rematch five months later and won.
The two Frampton fights and dual Mares wars remain the peak moments in his career so far. What’s next for the long-time champion that nobody wanted in the beginning?
“I want to fight the best. I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or a third fight with Carl Frampton,” said Santa Cruz. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division.”
The legacy moment awaits.