By Miguel Maravilla
WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) is back in action as he takes on Rafael Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) of Tijuana, Mexico this Saturday February 16 at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles headlining Premier Boxing Champions on FOX and FOX Deportes. We caught up with the champ during training camp here is what he had to say.
“This isn’t going to be an easy fight. Rivera is tougher than people have given him credit for in the past. Most important though, is to come out of there with the victory,” Santa Cruz told Fightnews.com®.
Santa Cruz wrapped up training camp in La Puente, California under the guidance of his father/trainer Don Jose Santa Cruz along with his brother Antonio in preparation for this fight.
“This preparation has been great. We have been sparring 13 rounds so that we are ready. I feel good and strong,’ Santa Cruz on training camp.
Originally scheduled to take on Miguel Flores, his previous opponent withdrew from the fight due to an ankle injury. Now Santa Cruz will take on Rivera.
“We were getting ready for Flores, a boxer that moves around and throws a lot of punches. Rivera lunges and he is kind of wild. We were training for Flores and now Rivera but we are always ready for anything. I am use to training against any style fighters that brawl, move, fast handed, or guys with technique,” Santa Cruz said about the change in opponent.
“It’s been a good a preparation. He is looking sharp and is ready for this fight,” Mr. Santa Cruz told Fightnews.com “The preparation is for him to look sharp on fight night. That is where the fight is won, with a good preparation. He is ready to give a good show and that is what the fans come to see,” Mr. Santa Cruz added.
His opponent Rivera is no stranger to taking fights on late notice.In September of 2017, Rivera came in as a late replacement the week of the fight against Joseph Diaz in going the distance and dropping a decision. Rivera since dropping back to back decision to Joseph Diaz and Joet Gonzalez is coming off a knockout over Jose Ramos.
“We are ready for Rivera he’s a tough fighter. He fought Joseph Diaz and got in some good punches even though he came in as a replacement, he came ready to fight and went twelve rounds,” Santa Cruz on the change of opponent.
“I have never seen neither of those two guys fight. I really have not much to say. All I’m doing is preparing my son to be ready come fight night,” Mr. Santa Cruz said.
For Leo, he is coming off a unanimous decision over former champion Abner Mares this past Summer at Staples Center. Santa Cruz, a man of his word gave Mares the rematch and proved that the first fight was not a fluke.
“The last fight I had with Abner was a great. We have the style to make great fights,” Santa Cruz said about his win over Mares.
The champ also expressed his concern, wishing Mares a recovery as he recently suffered a detach retina and was scheduled to fight WBA super featherweight champion Gervonta Davis this past weekend. Here is what Leo had to say.
“I heard about his eye and that sucks. We as fighters we put our lives out there, I know if it was up to Mares he would go out there and fight. It’s sucks to hear that news. I send all my prayers to him and wishing him a speedy recovery,”
With a win over Rivera, Santa Cruz is expected to have a unification bout with WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. later this year.
“We will go out there try to win convincingly and then move up to the big names. The names that people want to watch. Gary Russell Jr., Carl Frampton, Josh Warrington, and Oscar Valdez. Any of those guys I am ready for them,”
Looking to avenge his loss to Russell, Santa Cruz was outpointed by Gary Russell in the amateurs as Leo hopes to get his shot at redemption.
“Hopefully I fight Gary Russell Jr. He beat me in the amateurs and I want that rematch. Iv’e wanted that fight and I’m sure it will happen later this year,” Santa Cruz on a potential rematch with Russell. “The amateurs is only three rounds and I felt that I was catching him later in the fight. Now if we go twelve rounds, I know I will break him down with my pressure and his speed will slow down,” Santa Cruz added.
Other champions and big fights at featherweight include fellow Mexican, WBO champion Oscar Valdez, IBF champion Josh Warrington, even a rubber match against Carl Frampton as the two have split a pair of fights.
“They all have different styles. Gary Russell has really fast hands but I think timing beats speed. Oscar Valdez is strong, if he catches he will hurt you and he has good technique. Warrington puts a lot of pressure and throws a lot of punches. All those guys have their style and they are champions,” Santa Cruz said about the 126 pound division. “I want to unify against any of the champions,” Santa Cruz added.
With a win here, look for Santa Cruz to call out Gary Russell but first must make a statement Saturday night.
“Tune into FOX or go to the Microsoft Theater. I will go out there and give a great fight and come out with the victory,”
Follow Miguel on Twitter @MigMaravilla