Leo Santa Cruz expects to be under “big, big pressure” and to “look spectacular” when he defends his WBC junior featherweight belt against Manuel Roman on the Sept. 13 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
As part of a card stacked with fighters of Mexican descent that is happening on Mexican Independence Day Weekend, Santa Cruz (27-0-1, 15 knockouts) will face Roman (17-2-3, 6 KOs) as the co-main event supporting Mayweather’s welterweight title rematch with Maidana.
Santa Cruz believes that a dominant triumph over Roman, a former sparring partner, would go a long way toward earning a megabucks bout opposite RING 122-pound champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, who also holds the WBA and WBO belts, IBF counterpart Kiko Martinez or unbeaten UK stars Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg.
A notorious body-puncher who turned 26 on Aug. 10, Santa Cruz defended the 118-pound belt three times — twice by stoppage — before winning his 122-pound debut by fifth-round knockout over Alexander Munoz in May 2013.
Santa Cruz then took another step up in stature by scoring two knockdowns on the way to dethroning Victor Terrazas by third-round stoppage last August. Santa Cruz ended Terrazas’ streak of 11 straight wins, seven of which were by knockout, at the same site as his victory over Vusi Malinga for the IBF’s bantamweight belt in June 2012.
Santa Cruz is now coming off consecutive unanimous decision victories over Cesar Seda in December and Cristian Mijares in March, but longs to return to the days when he was stopping opponents, even as Golden Boy Vice President and matchmaker Eric Gomez insists that Santa Cruz’s stock continues to rise.
“I think that if you look at the opposition that he’s face, he’s faced some really top notch opposition. He’s fought some of the toughest guys in boxing, and he hasn’t had it easy ever since he won the IBF title. I think that he’s popular because of his style and the amount of punches that he throws. Obviously, we put him in with Ceda, who was a slick, counter-punching southpaw and Mijares was similar,” Gomez said during a Wednesday conference call.
“But I think that the thing with Leo is that he wants to go to war and he wants to give the fans what they want to see. He wants to stand there, toe-to-toe, and throw a lot of punches. But a lot of times, when he starts landing those punches, his opposition, they change their tactics and they want to run around because if they stand right in front of him, they can probably get knocked out or it’s going to be a long night and they’re going to have to eat a lot of punches. So I think that he’s one of the most exciting fighters with the amount of punches that he throws every round, and that he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Below are some of Santa Cruz’s comments from the conference call in advance of his bout with Roman.
Leo Santa Cruz on his desire to look “spectacular” against Roman:
“I just finished a hard sparring of 12 rounds, and I can’t wait. Of course, I think that, before, I was knocking out people and everything, but I think that it was their styles. I was never really used to fighters that box a little bit more. I wasn’t used to those kinds of styles, you know, running and boxing.
“But, now, we’re working on that in the gym. We’ve been fighting boxers that move a lot and we’ve been chasing them. So I think that we’re getting used to them and we’re going to be able to start doing what we were doing before. I do think that for this fight that I need to look spectacular because I’m the co-main event.
“A lot of people — millions of people — are going to be watching me, so I’ve got to go out there and give it my best, and that’s what I’m training for. Hopefully, I’m going to be at 100 percent and I’ll go out there and give the fans what I was doing before, and a war, and throwing a lot of punches so that the fans will be happy.”
On the pressure of fighting as the Mayweather-Maidana co-main event:
“There’s a big, big amount of pressure on top of me, because I’m the co-main event, and to be on this big undercard is just a dream come true. I’ve always dreamed of this, and I’m training 100 percent to give it my all.
“We trained really hard and did 12 rounds today. We’re leaving it all in the ring, so that on Sept. 13, we’ll go out there and we’ll give the fans what they want. To be on a big undercard like this with millions of people watching, we have to leave it all right there.”
On the fact that he’s only fought once so far in 2014 as opposed to three times in 2013 and five in 2012:
“If it was up to me, I would like to fight three or four times a year or as many times as I can, but the whole team decided that I needed a little rest. So they’re the ones who take care of me, so I have to respect what they say.
“If they think that fighting like this is better, then I respect them and I will do whatever they want. But, hopefully, next year, we’ll fight three or four times and we’ll stay busier. We’re always training in the gym and we’re always ready, so I’ll try to ask to fight more times next year.”
On the notion of fighting Rigondeaux:
“First, I read that [Rigondeux] thinks that fighters are running away from him, and that he said that he thought that I was scared to fight him. But I want to prove that I’m not scared to fight nobody. I’m here to fight the best, and if he is the best, then why not fight him. Like I’ve said, he has a hard style and everything.
“But hopefully, everything goes well on Sept. 13, and hopefully, next year, we can get a fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux and we can have a helluva fight and a helluva war out there. We know that it would be a great fight and a hard fight for me, but I’m might lose, but we’ll win if we give the fans what they want.
“If they want it, then I’m here for a Guillermo Rigondeaux fight. So let’s make that fight happen…Whenever we fight Rigondeaux, we’ll be ready to fight boxers who move a lot. We know that fight is going to happen sooner or later, so we want to be ready for different styles. I want to know how to fight every kind of style, including people that bang and move. We want to be ready for anything.
On the potential for fighting Martinez, Frampton or Quigg:
“Of course, hopefully, everything goes well and we look good in September, and then, we want to look for the harder fights. We want to look for those fights that I want.
“There are fights like with Kiko Martinez, Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, and there are some other fighters at 122. They’re all great fights, and I want to push for those fights. I want to push for those fighters to unify and to give the fans what they want.”
On the fights taking place on Mexican Independence Day weekend:
“That’s a big motivation. All of my fans provide big motivation, even if they’re not Mexican. I have fans all over the world who give me motivation. I have all different kinds of fans. I have fans from China, the UK, Jamaica, Columbia, Puerto Rico, everywhere, so that’s a great blessing for me.
“I always thank the fans, because, thanks to them, I’m here, and they’re always talking nice things about me and that’s why I go out there to give them my best and to try my best and I’ve been able to do it…On paper, they might say that this is not a tough fight, but I’ve known Roman since the amateurs, and he was really good in the amateurs.
“As a pro, too, I’ve sparred with him two or three years ago, and we used to work pretty good in the gym and we used to go to war in the gym with our sparring and everything. So, for all the people don’t know him, he has great punches and great technique and he looks good and everything.
“I never underestimate nobody. You have to train 100 percent for guys like him, because those are the guys who come hungry and this is the fight of his life. We’re both 100 percent ready and we’re going to go to war in a great, great fight.”