Once the hunter, WBC junior featherweight beltholder Leo Santa Cruz said he feels like he has become the hunted entering his defense against Manuel Roman in support of Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana II at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Sept. 13.
“I feel as if I have a target on my back,” said Santa Cruz, in part. “Before, I was the one looking for them; now they are looking for me.”
Santa Cruz spoke to media members during an open workout on Tuesday at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, Calif., the gym owned by Maidana’s trainer.
Santa Cruz (27-0-1, 15 knockouts) will face Roman (17-2-3, 6 KOs) on an undercard stacked with fighters of Mexican descent that is scheduled for Mexican Independence Day Weekend.
A dominant victory against Roman, a former sparring partner, could generate more interest in fights against Rigondeaux, Quigg or IBF counterpart Kiko Martinez, according to Santa Cruz.
“There is added pressure for me in all of my fights because I am becoming a household name,” said Santa Cruz.
“At the same time though, it means that I am doing something right and my hard work is paying off. People want to fight me and take away my title. It keeps me mentally and physically strong at all times.”
Santa Cruz is coming off consecutive unanimous decision victories over Cesar Seda in December and Cristian Mijares in March.
Santa Cruz won the WBC’s 122-pound belt in August 2013, dethroning Victor Terrazas by third round stoppage. Santa Cruz ended Terrazas’ streak of 11 straight wins.
“My opponent is a great fighter and has many of the same qualities of my past opponents…We know each other very well; we have sparred in the gym together before and he knows how to fight me…I am not looking at this as an easy fight no matter what anyone says,” said Santa Cruz of Roman.
“He wasn’t an easy sparring partner. We would go at it back and forth. I didn’t beat him up easily as I have with other partners. We have a lot of respect for one another and we are friends but once I get into the ring, there is no playing nice. This is a business and I have to do whatever it takes to come out with a victory.”
Note: Quotes from a release