Featherweight contender Leo Santa Cruz’s career thus far can best be described as a rowboat without paddles in the open sea. First, the direction he’s taken hasn’t been up to him, and other forces have steered him in different directions regardless of the destination.
Santa Cruz’s path started off in a stellar direction. He was young and fresh in the minds of fans. Santa Cruz was just being introduced to fans, and he was being sold as an exciting Mexican fighter with a high volume style that usually translates into exciting fights.
The competition was less than stellar, but that didn’t matter because he was just starting out, and he was fun to watch and as impressive as he needed to be against the reasonable opposition.
There was a rise in exposure capped off by a rare network television card on CBS headlined by Santa Cruz. But it was around that time that the tide started to shift, pulling Santa Cruz in a different direction.
Just like the open sea, Santa Cruz’s new course was inherently similar to the path he was already on in the first place. Like a boat, the surroundings were the same, but he was straying away from his original destination.
Fighting the same level of opposition, the only thing that changed was the fans’ opinions. The fans quickly turned on Santa Cruz as he began to look mediocre against subpar opponents. The number of fans fed up with Santa Cruz’s pedestrian progress grew with every outing, starting with the announcement of every opponent.
Santa Cruz dug himself into quite a hole, and like a deserted boat, the expectations seemed bleak for the Mexican fighter the further he ventured into deeper water.
With an August 29th bout looming against Abner Mares, Santa Cruz will hope to walk away from the fight with the kind of win that shifts everyone’s idea of who he is as a fighter. The stage is set in favor of a memorable outing as fans have been clamoring for this specific fight for years. What helps matters is the fight taking place in Los Angles at the Staples Center where both fighters maintain a vast and loyal following. Looking good in front of those fans will surely help the winning fighter’s cause, especially Santa Cruz.
The question remains, has Santa Cruz drifted so far that it will take more than one big win to shift the fans’ attitudes? Sadly, a win will do little justice for Santa Cruz. Instead, both fighters must produce a memorable fight that fans get behind in a major way. It can’t be anything less than a “Fight of the Year” candidate.
The one thing that can be said for Santa Cruz is he at least recognizes his position in boxing. He understands the position he is in and knows that Mares is the biggest opponent he will have ever faced. Although Santa Cruz maintains that he has tried to secure this fight in the past, thus making an excuse for how far he’s fallen in fans’ eyes, he understands why he is in this position.
“I wanted this since I think two year ago. I told them I wanted to fight Mares. He said I wasn’t at his level, and I said I’m going to work really hard, I’m going to get on his level, and one day we could make the fight happen.
“He’s right now the toughest fight I’ve faced. He’s been a two-time world champion. He’s fought Darchinyan and those big names, so a fight against him right now would be the biggest of my career,” Santa Cruz told Tha Boxing Voice.com.
Even though Santa Cruz fought for and won a world title at junior featherweight, he admits this is a much bigger fight despite the fact that there is no real world title on the line.
“When I fought for the world title that was the most important because it was my first world title, but I think Mares has a bigger name than when I fought for the title. He’s a bigger name, he’s a bigger everything, and people are saying [Mares] is the most dangerous [opponent].”
Santa Cruz is in a desperate situation, and even though he’s never tasted defeat as a professional fighter, he is fully aware of his reputation amongst boxing fans.
“I hear everything. I wish I could do something. I wish I could fight Rigondeaux, and all the fighters [the fans] want me to fight, but it’s not just up to me. It’s up to my whole team, and they know what’s good for my career, so I have to listen to them because if I don’t listen to them then why do I have them here.”
The excuse Santa Cruz offers up could be seen as a cop-out, but it might have some validity to it. Only time will tell whether or not the subpar opposition was just “part of the plan” and he will have to step up big time in consecutive fights. We will eventually know for sure if Santa Cruz is being truthful about fighting the best, especially if he lives up to his own words.
“Later in the future, I’m going to ask for those fights, and I’m going to please the fans because that’s what I’m here for is to please the fans. It just takes time.”
Even though there has been plenty of talk about a rematch – they have actually gone as far as saying it could be a trilogy — in the lead up to this fight, Santa Cruz has bold aspirations if he comes away with the victory. Santa Cruz says once he defeats Mares he will seek out a title holder at featherweight, specifically naming Vasyl Lomachenko (WBO) and Gary Russell Jr. (WBC). He also mentioned Nicholas Walters although he does not hold a title at featherweight, and he might’ve outgrown the division anyway.