Remembering the Other Santa Cruz and the Night He Was Robbed in New York

Human punching machine Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1) edged Carl Frampton (23-1) on January 28, 2017 by majority decision at the MGM Grand. The win allowed Leo to recapture the featherweight crown that he lost six months earlier and displayed how sticking to a well-thought-out fight plan can reap success.

Among the top ten pound for pound boxers, “El Terremoto” has run roughshod over top tier opposition to reach the very  heights as a four-time, three-weight world champion. His next opponent will be Chis Avalos on October 14. Avalos has lost three of his last five and likely will not improve on that mark against Santa Cruz. Indeed, the fight is designed as a tune-up for Santa Cruz, the prelude to a rematch with Southern California rival Abner Mares who will also be showcased on the October 14 card.

Jose Armando Santa Cruz

 Along with their father (and Leo’s trainer), brothers Antonio, Jose Armando, and Roberto help the Santa Cruz machine keep rolling. One sibling in particular, Jose Armando (second from the right over Leo’s left shoulder), was a highly talented boxer who finished with a 28-5 mark that featured a stoppage over Chikashi Inada in 2006. That win earned Jose the interim WBC lightweight title, but he would lose it to David Diaz three months later by virtue of a shocking late-round uppercut. At the time of the stoppage the scores were 88-83, 88-83, and 87-84, all for Santa Cruz.J

Jose Armando then went 5-3 in his final eight outings, but it should have been 6-2 and he should been awarded the interim title again when he fought Joel Casamayor at Madison Square Garden on November 10, 2007. The fight was on the undercard of the bout between Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley.

Now there have been some terrible decisions over the years. The decision that went against Jose Armando Santa Cruz that night ranks among the very worst, right up there with Walcott-Louis, Bradley-Pacquiao I, Briggs-Foreman, Tiberi-Toney, and Lara-Williams.

After hugging, clinching and holding for most of the fight (for which he was somehow not deducted a point by referee Steve Smoger), it was clear to any serious observer that the aging Casamayor had done nothing to earn a win. Santa Cruz, who decked Casamayor in the opening round, was the busier fighter, throwing over 300 more punches, and he out-landed Casamayor by a ratio of almost 2:1. HBO’s unofficial judge Harold Lederman gave Santa Cruz eight of the first nine rounds and scored the fight 118-109. I gave Casamayor only two rounds as he looked as if he had aged overnight (though he would go on to TKO Michael Katsidis in his next fight — one that would prove to be his last hurrah). Dan Rafael of ESPN scored it 119-108 and called the verdict “the single worst decision” he had ever seen.

When the bell rang ending the fight, Casamayor was lifted up as the anticipated winner. Jim Lampley said, “The crowd seems a little nonplussed that someone would lift Casamayor as if he won.” In fact, the crowd booed loudly.

The observers then went into semi-shock as the judges, then relatively inexperienced, disagreed. Frank Lombardi and Ron McNair scored it 114-113 for the Cuban while Tony Paolillo scored it 114-113 for Santa Cruz.

Cries of bull—-, bull—-, bull—-, rained down from the Garden crowd.

Observations

“It was a one-sided wipeout, Santa Cruz’s finest hour, his performance positioning him for the kind of fights that lead to higher tax brackets” — Jason Bracelin.

“It was upsetting…I remember I was at another brother’s house, watching the fight and we were happy he won. His next fight was probably going to be for a title. And then we heard the decision. It was frustrating, because we couldn’t do anything.”—Leo Santa Cruz

 Jim Lampley — “Just when you think you have seen everything– every bizarre decision — something like this happens.” (He would say the very same thing when Timothy Bradley Jr. was awarded a decision over Manny Pacquiao in 2012.)

Harold Lederman — “That’s a tough decision to explain. It was dreadful; I wish I had a stronger word.”

Manny Steward — “This is what is hurting boxing.  It was bad and disgusting.”

“That’s just not a bad decision; that’s an outright robbery” chimed in Max Kellerman who added, “Jose Armando Santa Cruz should be the new champion. He was just robbed.”

Unlike the equally victimized Foreman and Tiberi, who left boxing in disgust, Jose Armando stayed on. Sadly, however, he was diagnosed with brain swelling before a fight in 2010, forcing retirement. “They [the doctor] told me, ‘That’s it. You can’t fight anymore,” said Santa Cruz.

For most boxers, what defines their career is a notable win. In the case of Jose Armando Santa Cruz, it was a loss that should have been a win. Leo’s older brother should have become the lineal lightweight champ but bizarre scoring prevented yet another young man from reaching his dream.

Maybe George Foreman was right when he said on an HBO Boxing broadcast, “At the end of the day, a prize-fight without the aid of the knockout is merely a beauty contest.” More to the point, no one ever said that boxing stories have a happy ending.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.

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