Leo Santa Cruz is not one for vacations.
The 24-year-old bantamweight titleholder will fight for the fifth time this year when he defends his IBF belt against unbeaten Alberto Guevara on Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The special CBS-televised afternoon showcase will be the third defense of the title he won by outpointing Vusi Malinga in June. After outworking the veteran South African, Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13 knockouts) stopped former flyweight titleholder Eric Morel (TKO 5) in September and wore down Victor Zaleta (TKO 9) just last month.
Santa Cruz dominated Zaleta, dropping the game challenger three times before the fight was mercifully stopped, but he absorbed his share of punishment too, including abrasions and swelling around his eyes and a bloody nose. Still, despite the tougher-than-expected fight, Santa Cruz didn’t think twice about accepting the offer to return to the ring less than one month later.
“I’m happy when I’m busy,” Santa Cruz told RingTV.com during a media workout at the Ponce De Leon gym in Montebello, Calif., on Monday. “I wanted at least four fights this year. The more I fight, the more fans get to see me.
“My last fight was tough, but I was still back in the gym three days later. I stay in the gym. I don’t take time off. If I’m not in the gym I don’t feel right.”
Because of his blue-collar work ethic, Santa Cruz is always ready (and willing) to be added to the undercards of major Golden Boy Promotions events, as he was with the Showtime-televised Saul Alvarez-Josesito Lopez card in September and the Abner Mares-Anselmo Moreno show in November. However, his fight with Guevara, an undefeated prospect from Mazatlan, Mexico, will be Santa Cruz’s first headliner.
The fact that his main event is the first live boxing program to air on CBS since 1997 obviously adds to the significance of the fight.
“I thought about taking the rest of the year off after the Zaleta fight, but when they offered me this fight in December and then told me it would be on CBS I had to take it,” Santa Cruz said. “As the fight got closer I started to realize what a big deal it is to be fighting on free TV. Millions of people can see me on CBS.
“I can rest after this fight. Christmas is still ahead of us, so I’ll have time to spend with my family.”
Even if Santa Cruz finds himself in another tough fight against Guevara don’t expect the Southern Californian to spend too much time away from his brutal profession.
“I might spend two or three weeks celebrating the holidays with my family, but then I’m going back to the gym,” he said. “I’m a fighter. This is what I do. If I wasn’t offered a fight in December I would have asked Golden Boy to get me a fight in January or February.”
GUEVARA SAYS SKILL BEATS WILL
Santa Cruz’s style is as busy as his 2012 schedule. The relentless pressure fighter routinely averages 100 punches or more a round when he fights. Many insiders and members of the media view Santa Cruz, who combines his pressure and volume punching with a debilitating body attack, to be among the most formidable young titleholders in the sport.
None of this seems to bother Guevara (16-0, 6 KOs), a 22-year-old law major who is in his fifth year at the University of Sinaloa-Mazatlan.
The fresh-faced college student says he knows how to deal with an aggressive opponent, even a workhorse like Santa Cruz.
“To beat pressure one must be intelligent and use boxing skill,” Guevara said through translator Ramiro Gonzalez.
However, just because Guevara, who looks to be as tall as Santa Cruz (5-foot-7), hits the books, don’t expect him to be shy about hitting his heavily favored adversary on Saturday.
Guevara comes from a fighting family. His older brother (by one year) Pedro recently challenged for a 108-pound title and his grandfather on his mother’s side of the family was also a professional boxer. Guevara and his brother are promoted by Box Latino, which is owned by Mexican legend Erik Morales, who wouldn’t have signed the brothers if they didn’t have talent – or heart.
“I consider myself a real boxer,” said Guevara, who listed Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez as his boxing heroes and fighters he tries to emulate. “I don’t run. I get in and out. I use technique and I counter punch.
“When I see the opportunity to land a punch, I take it. I’m not a brawling fighter but I’m explosive when I need to be. Explosive but intelligent.”
JOSEPH DIAZ JR.
Those who catch Saturday’s CBS broadcast will also see the pro debut of Joseph Diaz Jr., the junior featherweight representative on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and the most respected amateur boxer from Southern California in recent years.
The 20-year-old native of South El Monte, Calif., compiled a 110-8 amateur record during a decorated career that included a national title and a strong showing in the 2011 World Amateur Championships.
Diaz, who signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions, says he’s ready for the paid ranks.
“My style is suited for both the amateurs and the pros,” he said. “I’m an all-around fighter. I’m aggressive with boxers and I box aggressive fighters. I adapt to my opponents.”
The young southpaw is especially used to being in the ring with heavy handed pressure fighters. Diaz has sparred with top professionals in Southern California since he was 16, including WBC featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon, Santa Cruz and former RING junior flyweight champ Giovani Segura.
Golden Boy and Diaz’s management plan to keep him very busy, as his contract with the L.A.-based promotional company calls for a minimum of eight fights a year starting in 2013.
Photos / Esther Lin-SHOWTIME