By Miguel Maravilla
WBA featherweight champion Leo “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) is ready to kick off the new year as he defends his title against Miguel Flores (23-2, 11 KOs) on Saturday, February 16th at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles live on FOX and Fox Deportes.
“This upcoming fight is just like any other fight,” Santa Cruz told Fightnews.com®. “For me every fight is tough. I have respect for everyone that gets in the ring with me.”
Santa Cruz was victorious in the battle of L.A with his unanimous decision over Abner Mares during their rematch this past summer (June 9th). With the victory, Santa Cruz also solidified his spot as the top featherweight in the world.
“It was a good win for me,” the champion declared. “He wanted that rematch and I gave him the rematch. I got to be crowned the King of L.A. When I retire, I want to be known as a great Mexican fighter and that was another big win for my legacy!”
Santa Cruz has been grinding it out in camp under the watchful eye of his father Don Jose Santa Cruz along with his brothers Antonio, and Jose in preparation for the hungry challenger Flores.
“Everything is good. We are working very hard in the gym. I’ve trained very hard with my dad. Even though he’s sick, he still is in the gym pushing me and telling me what to do. It’s a huge motivation to see him there supporting me. I know that if he sees me pushing myself, it’s going to motivate him too.”
“He is looking sharp in camp,” declared Mr. Santa Cruz to Fightnews.com®. “He is still learning and myself as well. He will be ready come fight night.”
Mr. Santa Cruz continued, “Ever since I’ve been ill my role has changed. I observe and instruct from outside the ring. I see his flaws much better from a distance, therefore I can point out what he is doing wrong. Antonio does a good job with him doing the mitts. To be honest, it’s better that way. There is less pressure on him.”
For his opponent, Flores he is coming off a TKO victory over Raul Chirino (April 2018) since suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of Dat Ngyuen (February 2017) via stoppage and dropping a decision to Chris Avalos (July 2017).
“He brings that Mexican heart to the ring,” said Santa Cruz of Flores. “He throws a lot of punches and leaves it all in the ring. That makes for a good fight.”
“I don’t know too much about his opponent but we don’t underestimate him either,” Mr. Santa Cruz said.
With a win here, Santa Cruz will be calling out WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. for a unification bout later this year.
“I have been asking for the Gary Russell fight. That is the fight I want. Gary Russell beat me as an amateur and I want a shot to redeem myself. I have always wanted the rematch and that’s the fight that can be made to show who is the best 126,” Santa Cruz proclaimed.
If the showdown with Russell does not occur, other potential bouts include a unification with IBF champion Josh Warrington, who is coming off a decision over Santa Cruz’s rival Carl Frampton. Another good match-up is a unification with WBO champ Oscar Valdez but that seems doubtful since he is represented by rival promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank.
“I have a lot of options on the table,” outlined Santa Cruz. “Hopefully, I get pass this fight and get the win. I want to clean out the division and be the king at 126. To do that I have to beat Gary Russell, Oscar Valdez, Josh Warrington.”
Santa Cruz continued to sketch his options: “I’ve already been told, if I get passed this fight that I will be fighting Russell or Warrington later this year. I will get three fights this year I’ve been told and it will be a unification,”
Last option for Santa Cruz would be a move up to the super featherweight division in attempt to add a fourth world title in his fourth weight class.
“If those fights don’t happen than I want to move up to 130 and fight for another title,” Santa Cruz said.
Looking to start the year off with a statement, the champ Santa Cruz has made it clear that he is not overlooking Flores because some major potential fights could be ahead.
“He may think I’m underestimating him, but I’ve never underestimated any fighter I’ve faced. Media and fans come up with that, but I don’t think I’m superior to anyone else. I just do my job,” Santa Cruz asserted. “I take every fighter serious. He lost his brother (recently) and that just makes him more determined. He has nothing to lose!”
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