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Leo Santa Cruz Broadens His Horizons

By Sean Crose

Carl Frampton. Guillermo Rigondeaux. Abner Mares. Those are three of the names Leo Santa Cruz has mentioned as potential opponents, provided he gets past Cristian Mijares this Saturday on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo brawl. Getting past Mijares, however, may be easier said than done.

The Mexican southpaw has only lost one of this past fourteen fights, after all. On top of that, six of his past seven victories have been by knockout. Not that Santa Cruz is expecting a power puncher. “He’s going to come out here and try to box me,” the undefeated WBC super bantamweight champion told Marcos Villegas of Fight Hub TV.

And Santa Cruz has plans for that. “I’m going to go out there and do what I always do,” he said to Villegas, “stay on top, throw a lot of punches and not let him box.” Indeed, that strategy may work with Mijares, who has seven loses on his resume. How will it work against Frampton, though? Or Mares? Or the great Rigondeaux?

Santa Cruz does indeed receive a lot of love from fans. His blemish-free record, award winning smile and friendly disposition truly makes him hard to dislike. Adrien Broner, this guy ain’t. Still, it’s worth asking if Santa Cruz has the skills to really hang with the big boys.

For instance, he didn’t have a smooth fight against Cesar Ceda last December on the Broner–Maidana undercard. He clearly views that bout as having been a learning experience (he did emerge with a unanimous decision win, after all), but how would he handle someone as slick as Rigondeaux? While it’s true the two men are separated by boxing’s “cold war,” no one knows what the future holds. Santa Cruz has publicly claimed he wants to meet the renowned Cuban in the ring, but is he anywhere near ready?

And what about Carl Frampton? The Irishman may be making his way across the pond soon and he can fight in a variety of different styles. Lastly, what about Mares? Sure, he got destroyed by Jhonny Gonzalez, but he’s also beaten men like Daniel Ponce De Leon, Joseph Agbeko and Vic Darchinyan. Those aren’t names one just scoffs at.

No one knows how Santa Cruz would do against any of those opponents, of course, but fans can take comfort in the fact that Santa Cruz isn’t going to shy away from a challenge. He’s also playing it smart by fighting men like Mijares, who’s apt to be as difficult for him as Ceda was.

Rather than facing hand picked opponents, Santa Cruz and his trainer-father Jose are agreeing to embrace challenges. That will bode well for the future if Santa Cruz emerges from those challenges with success. Not only will he be used to handling a variety of styles, he’ll know how to keep it together when things aren’t going as planned in the ring.

The truth is, it’s refreshing to have a boxer like Santa Cruz out there. It’s just good to see a fighter, especially a successful one, be willing to grow. Many popular fighters jump weight divisions. How many up the level of competition that they face? Make no mistake about it, Santa Cruz is willing to take risks on his road to big fights.

And he’s undoubtedly doing it for his own good. Jumping into a huge bout may prove successful in the short run. Waiting until one’s ready, however, is infinitely smarter. If only others would handle the fight game with the same intelligence Santa Cruz does. It would make for more legitimate stars. It would also make for less would-be stars. In short, it would be a win-win for the sport.

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