By Kirk Jackson
Leo Santa Cruz proved many nay-sayers wrong, improving his record to 31-0-1 (17 KO’s) after defeating former three division world champion Abner Mares via majority decision.
Serving as the headliner of an action packed card for the Premier Boxing Champions brand on the ESPN network, the main event did not disappoint, although the more eye appeasing fights transpired earlier in the evening.
Much of the talk surrounding Santa Cruz entering his fight against Mares was the scrutiny he has faced as of late because of the lack of quality opposition.
Suffering a similar fate like former lineal junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and deemed a “Cherry-picker” by critics, Santa Cruz has fallen out of good graces with some fans. Prior to fighting Mares, the recent opposition of Santa Cruz was shaky at best.
Manuel Roman, Jesus Ruiz and Jose Cayetano don’t exactly scream murderer’s row.
Add to that, Santa Cruz is managed by the one and only Al Haymon. Anyone associated with Haymon for whatever reason, is heavily criticized and at times unfairly so.
There’s a negative connotation, as Haymon has been depicted as the bad guy of boxing, with all of his underlings (fighters) labeled as cherry-picking cowards.
In reality, Haymon and the fighters he manages are just like everyone else in sport for the most part. Al Haymon is not much different from Bob Arum, Don King, Lou DiBella, etc.
From a fighting standpoint, not everyone can be pleased, but from a style of fighting perspective, Santa Cruz initiates the action. Although lacking the punching power especially moving up in weight to score the dramatic knock-out, Santa Cruz is still effective and always in pursuit of his opponent.
He should be commended for that. If we analyze his career thus far, he can be compared favorably even to some of boxing’s biggest stars.
Santa Cruz may not be the superior fighter, but he has a better resume than the highly regarded current IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook 35-0 (24 KO’s).
It can be argued his resume is better if not on the same tier of Terence Crawford 26-0 (18 KO’s) and Gennady Golovkin 33-0 (30 KO’s) as well. And these are current world champions who can be found on any credible critic’s pound for pound list.
Santa Cruz has defeated six former or current world titlists; the most notable names include Cristian Mijares, Eric Morel and most recently Abner Mares.
It can certainly be argued Santa Cruz conveniently avoided fights with stiffer competition in the super bantamweight division.
Names such as Carl Frampton 21-0 (14 KO’s), Scott Quigg 31-0-2 (23 KO’s) and Guillermo Rigondeaux 15-0 (10 KO’s). All three aforementioned fighters are undefeated by the way.
But with the move up to featherweight, Santa Cruz can make amends in one of boxing’s historic divisions. After his initial splash against Mares, Santa Cruz can fight some other big names of the division and solidify himself as one of the pound for pound greats currently fighting in the sport.
The undefeated WBA super world featherweight champion Nicholas Walters 26-0 (21 KO’s) would probably love the opportunity to face Santa Cruz.
Add WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell 26-1 (15 KO’s) who is also managed by Haymon and WBO featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko 4-1 (2 KO’s) to the list of hopefuls in the Santa Cruz sweepstakes.
All of these potential match-ups can make sense financially and make sense from a crowd pleasing, competitive, please the fans perspective.
Which path will Leo Santa Cruz take?