When Leo Santa Cruz first hit the professional boxing scene several promoters or matchmakers took a look at the skinny guy with the looks of a 12-year-old, and passed on signing him.
The East L.A. boxer sure showed them all.
Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15 Kos) heads toward his 28th professional fight without a loss and defends the WBC junior featherweight title against Mexico’s sometimes bedeviling Cristian Mijares (49-7-2, 24 Kos) tonight. (LSC, left, and Mijares, right, in Ray Flores photo.)
Showtime pay-per-view will televise the world title fight.
Maybe it was the braces on his teeth or the glasses he sometimes wore, but Santa Cruz didn’t impress many as an amateur. As a pro, that’s a different animal. Santa Cruz changed from puppy dog to chupacabra once the head gear was tossed.
If you ever watched Santa Cruz spar his gymnasium performances are as brutal or even more brutal than the actual fights. The youngest of the fighting Santa Cruz brothers accepts all comers whether they’re super-quick bantamweights or hard-hitting junior welterweights he will jump in the ring. From Russian pulverizers to Mexican assassins, they’re all the same to Santa Cruz. If they jump in the ring he’s fighting them.
Most of his actual fights seem easier than the gym wars he partakes on a daily basis. It’s one of the reasons that fans should appreciate him now.
Now, gym wars take a toll. All of the Santa Cruz brothers are warriors. They have a style of fighting similar to a human mole, as they bore into opponents with arms pumping and moving straight ahead with no thoughts of moving backward or sideways. They expect the opponent to do the moving. Leo Santa Cruz, 25, can’t possibly proceed at this suicidal speed for much longer. Eventually the constant battering from sparring takes its toll and one day the reflexes will slow and fans will wonder why?
All that aside, Santa Cruz remains a beast in the boxing ring and loves the competition.
“I never enter the ring thinking I’m going to lose,” says the ultra-confident boxer. “I’m going to stop him.”
"Him" is Mijares, the former junior bantamweight world champion from Durango, Mexico.
“I totally feel like I’m catching Leo at the right time,” said Mijares, 32, a lefty boxer with good footwork and head movement. “I think Leo found out in his last fight that he is vulnerable.”
Santa Cruz was rocked by Cesar Seda in his last title defense. Was it a harbinger of dire things to come?
“I feel Seda was stronger, younger and faster than Mijares,” said Santa Cruz.
Can experience prove superior to all of those attributes that Santa Cruz mentioned?
“I can see in his face, the look in his eyes, that he’s going to lose on Saturday,” Mijares insists.
Santa Cruz never looks for a decision win.
“I’m going to stop him,” he says.