This weekend’s card is ironic. In one sense, fans will be treated to a fight that we’ve never seen before and one that has been in demand for the past five years. The fight, of course, is the PPV main event between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. It is a unique fight with various intangibles and uncertainties that can only be known after the fight is concluded.
As unique as the main event is, the card will also host a fight featuring a fighter in a similar position that we’ve seen him in all too many times. This familiar set of circumstances revolves around the fight featuring Leo Santa Cruz against another weak opponent in Jose Cayetano, scheduled for 10 rounds in the featherweight division.
Santa Cruz has fought weak opponents, he’s fought weak opponents on Mayweather’s undercard, and he has been showcased on fight cards with Mexican holiday dates in order to take advantage of the Mexican/Hispanic following in boxing. This isn’t new, in fact it is getting rather old.
The only new circumstance associated with this fight is Santa Cruz’s decision to move up four pounds to the 126lb weight limit, despite the fact that he holds a title at 122lbs. Some will argue that his intent to fight Abner Mares at some point this year validates the decision. However, others will argue that he is leaving a division with plenty of challengers that he has yet to face, even though he holds the WBC title in the weight class.
It is one thing for a fighter to vacate a title with an obvious challenger or two in order to make a bigger payday in a higher weight class, but Santa Cruz never fought anyone worthy enough at 122lbs. What’s worse, Santa Cruz is ditching the weight class filled with viable opponents to compete in a division where the best fighters are out of his reach.
Mares is a solid opponent and the matchup with Santa Cruz should be fun. However, Vasyl Lomachenko, who will also be on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard, and Nicholas Walters are the best in the division and their alliances are with Top Rank—a promotional company that doesn’t often do business with Al Haymon, who Santa Cruz is aligned with.
Santa Cruz was signed to Golden Boy Promotions, who promoted him for the last several years. In fact, Cruz was one of the few fighters still with Golden Boy after the majority of Haymon fighters parted ways with the company earlier this year.
However, Haymon and Santa Cruz eventually exercised the buyout clause in the fighter’s contract and he, too, parted ways with Golden Boy soon after his last fight with the company back in January of this year.
It seemed surprising at the time because Santa Cruz had repeatedly said that he was happy with Golden Boy.
It also appeared to be a big blow to Golden Boy, who had helped build Santa Cruz’s career but never got a real fight out of him. Oscar De La Hoya didn’t seem all that disappointed with Santa Cruz’s departure and made it clear that he was trying to negotiate a fight with him and Guillermo Rigondeaux at the time of Santa Cruz’s decision to leave the company—insinuating that was the reason he chose to leave, although he never said it clearly.
De La Hoya said that he was only interested in making the best fights possible and if any fighter refrained from going along with that notion then he would gladly part ways, which seems to be the case with Santa Cruz.
Early in his career, Santa Cruz seemed to have such promise. He was demonstrating a propensity to fight hard and his style was the perfect marketing tool for a fighter with a Spanish surname. However, Santa Cruz hasn’t showed that same kind of excitement recently, at least not consistently. Also, his early style reflected a hardnosed attitude, the kind that correlates with a desire to be challenged against the best.
Santa Cruz has repeatedly refused to fight the best. It now seems like Santa Cruz is ready to step up and face Abner Mares, but is an eventual fight with Mares, even if it is his next fight after this weekend’s sham, enough to make up for the path his career has taken? Furthermore, if the Mares fight puts him back on track, what can he do to follow up if he continues to avoid the division’s best?
I’m sure Golden Boy would’ve loved to promote Mares-Santa Cruz. It is a fight that they deserved to promote and one that they could’ve done successfully, presumably better than Haymon Sports. However, Santa Cruz’s long-term benefit isn’t extremely enticing because he has flaws. His flaws inside the ring are apparent, but so too are his competitive flaws.
Even when you consider the attraction of Mares-Santa Cruz, and even though Golden Boy built Santa Cruz, the truth is Golden Boy may have gotten rid of Santa Cruz at the exact right time. He might seem like the perfect fighter for a promotional company centered on Hispanic fighters with the potential to produce exciting fights, but in the new version of Golden Boy Santa Cruz is dead weight.
Whatever Santa Cruz can gain from this weekend’s outing he must the reality that a fight with him and Mares isn’t the easy sell it was once considered. A few years ago, fight fans were clamoring over the idea of an eventual showdown between Mares and Santa Cruz. The fight seemed as inevitable as it did explosive, but that matchup was supposed to happen after both fighters did something spectacular that warranted the fight and made it count for something.
Now, it almost seems like a crossroads type of fight with the loser fixed in a deep hole that can only be rectified by consistent performances in consecutive fights with true competitors. That doesn’t seem like a position Santa Cruz would prefer or excel in given his career thus far.