By Sean Crose
Super bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz has a chance to prove himself, not just on Saturday night, when he meets the seemingly outgunned and outclassed Manuel Roman on the Mayweather-Maidana undercard, but after that assumed victory, as well. For, provided he beats Roman, Santa Cruz will have the opportunity to at least try to make a major super bantamweight bout between himself and the slippery Guillermo Rigondeaux a reality.
Rigondeaux, for those who haven’t heard, is a highly skilled, but arguably boring Cuban master who makes easy work of most foes. He’s not looked on as a hitter, but Rigondeaux has knocked out over half his opponents, a fact which makes him dangerous on multiple levels. Santa Cruz has been all but openly accused of avoiding Rigondeaux, but during a conference call this past summer, the California native came across and ready, eager and willing to make the fight happen.
““I want to prove I’m scared of fighting nobody,” Santa Cruz claimed during the call. “Hopefully next year we get to fight Guillermo Rigondeaux.” Words are cheap, but Santa Cruz gives the impression of being a sincere man. Indeed, the problem may not be Santa Cruz’ willingness to battle Rigondeaux, but the willingness of those in Santa Cruz’ camp.
For Santa Cruz is an Al Haymon fighter – and Haymon has a reputation for keeping his boxers, no matter how talented, out of harm’s way. Yet it’s Santa Cruz, not Haymon, who undoubtedly has the final say. There’s really no excuse for Santa Cruz not to pay attention to what those who are supposed to be supporting him are up to.
During last summer’s call, Santa Cruz claimed he didn’t know that a possible fight between himself and Irish star Carl Frampton had been (at least on some level) in the works. “They never told me about a possible fight with him,” he answered when asked why a potential Santa Cruz-Frampton match hadn’t become a reality.
That’s nonsense. No doubt Santa Cruz was telling the truth, but he should know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s his career, after all, as well as his personal safety and his money that’s at stake. If he doesn’t become assertive in such matters, the opportunity to prove himself against Rigondeaux may never arrive.
That being said, it’s refreshing to see that Santa Cruz is at least willing to fight the best. That almost makes the man an oddity in today’s frustrating fight world. Former star turned promoter Barry McGuigan uttered some pretty disappointing words this past weekend when he expressed little interest in seeing his fighter, Carl Frampton, face Rigondeaux in the ring. Santa Cruz isn’t making excuses like McGuigan is (that Rigondeaux is unprofitable, unpopular, etc…). He’s expressing interest in meeting the dangerous Rigondeaux in gloved combat – and letting the chips fall where they may.
Yet it takes more than desire to be a truly great fighter who will take on all comers. It takes dedication and the willingness to motivate the unwilling. This is not an era where the best are willing to fight the best. In order for that to happen, someone has to be aggressive. And that someone, in this case at least, is Santa Cruz. Only he, not Haymon or anyone else, can point in the direction he’s going to go. In short, Santa Cruz has to make sure Haymon is what Haymon is said to be – an adviser, nothing more.
When one thinks about it, Santa Cruz really is the only person on earth who can make a bout with Rigondeaux happen. If, of course, Santa Cruz first manages to defeat Roman on Saturday. One never knows in boxing.