Howdy folks. Today I’d like to discuss some potential matchups for Leo Santa Cruz.
Leo “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz 36-1-1 (19 KOs)
Leo Santa Cruz is a skilled workhorse. The main reason he wins a lot of his fights is simply by out-hustling his opponents. Santa Cruz is also a soft spoken, humble young man. He always seems to be in shape and put in the work necessary to be prepared and ready come fight time. As simple as those sound, they are rare respectable traits to find in the common man. He is one of those fighters that you always want to root for.
My only knock on Santa Cruz up to this point is the lack of opposition lately. Now I’m not saying that he is fighting no-hopers, but he is not fighting the guys on his level nearly enough. Aside from the Carl Frampton and Abner Mares bouts, there really isn’t a whole lot to be excited about. He really needs to start bolstering his record a bit more with some top-tier fighters at featherweight. I could potentially see him moving up at some point, but I think he is better off staying at 126 for now. There are, however, a few scraps that I wouldn’t mind seeing him possibly taking a chance to cement his place in history, if he wants to be remembered by some of the boxing historians.
Leo is a fun fighter to watch, for both the casual fan who wants to see a brawl and for the boxing gurus who prefer a little more technique and skill. He can accommodate both, which should make him a marketing wizard. My question is, why can’t he get stiffer tests with these attributes? This should be easy picking for promoters and matchmakers.
#1 Matchup: Gary Russell Jr. 30-1 (18 KOs)
Well, this is clearly the most obvious bout that needs to happen at featherweight. Why this match hasn’t already been made is beyond me. Gary Russell and Leo Santa Cruz are clearly the two best in this division and should have already hashed out the challenge a few years ago. Considering neither have been upset and they are both at the top of their games, we need to get this going ASAP! Each man holds a trinket. Russell has the WBC and Santa Cruz has the WBA title. I don’t personally care about either one of those titles, but in this case the winner should be crowned the real featherweight champion. That’s what matters most, who’s the real number one. Not 1A, or 1B, or 1.16 WBO, IBF, WBC, IBO, NABA, NABF, WWE, Interim, gold, titanium, franchise, platinum titlist.
Gary Russell has the advantages in hand-speed, boxing I.Q., and movement. Leo Santa Cruz has the advantages of work rate and pressure. The big question here is, can Leo chop at the tree long enough to make it start to wilt and fall? Las Vegas or New York would be good landing spots for this.
#2 Matchup: Oscar Valdez 26-0 (20 KOs)
Oscar Valdez is a top-5 featherweight right now. That is sufficient for me, as long as he takes the Gary Russell fight at some point in his life. Valdez has a fairly weak resume compared to guys like Carl Frampton and even Josh Warrington (who recently defeated Frampton). I understand that this is a kind of “what have you done for me lately” sport, but in order to call yourself a champion, I would assume that guys like Valdez should have already fought at least a legit top-1 or 2, or hell even a top-5 featherweight by now. Considering that he hasn’t, why is he considered a “champion”? Frampton and Warrington just fought each other not too long ago and then Warrington pulled out a close decision to Kid Galahad. That alone is reason for both of them to be ranked higher and neither one of them should even be called a champion. Not to mention Frampton has already lost and defeated Santa Cruz once. What has Valdez accomplished, other than beating Evgeny Gradovich for a title that nobody in their right minds can explain how it was for a title in the first place? I’m not trying to batter Oscar, or guys like Gradovich, because they are both good fighters, but he needs to up the ante in order to prove that he is the best at 126.
This would sell well due to the fact that they are both at, or near the top of the featherweight division and both are Mexican. This could turn out to be an exciting fight to watch. Santa Cruz would need to continually keep the pressure on Valdez and try and break his spirit. Valdez would need to try and outbox Santa Cruz and hit Leo from a distance with those thudding power blows. This would test each fighter’s manhood as it will get gritty and rough in that ring. We could set it up anywhere in California, Mexico, or Las Vegas.
#3 Matchup: Josh Warrington 29-0 (6 KOs)
Warrington versus Santa Cruz could be a Fight of the Year candidate. Both men are ultra-busy boxers. I would take a wild guess and say neither man would want to back away and give any ground to the other, so this could turn out to be very entertaining. Both men are top 5 featherweights and both hold titles. Simple logic tells you that this should be pretty easy to sell, especially in England, Mexico, or possibly even Las Vegas, California, or New York.
#4 Matchup: Carl Frampton 26-2 (15 KOs)
I would love to see Leo stay at 126 and possibly fight Rey Vargas and Daniel Roman if they move up. Rey Vargas would be a major test for Santa Cruz because of his height and boxing style. It would sell great in Mexico. Daniel Roman would be a very fun head-on collision. I also like a potential underdog bout against a guy like Can Xu, which sells well because the Chinese are committed fans to their own. That is an underrated fun-filled scrap to keep in mind for the future. Even Guillermo Rigondeaux would be a great test for both men, however, I would choose to go after Carl Frampton again.
Frampton and Santa Cruz have had two great battles that were very close in the past and I really believe the fans and Frampton deserve another shot at this one. Both battles ended in a majority decision victory for one or the other. First for Frampton, the next for Santa Cruz. They really should get this one settled once and for all. Not to mention, this still sells very well, considering their past and the pride of each fan base. New York, or Las Vegas would be a perfect fit for this trilogy.
#5 Matchup: Vasiliy Lomachenko 14-1 (10 KOs)
If you’re going to go for all the glory and take on the best challenges, these are the routes to go. Lomachenko is a massive challenge to overcome for anybody, but whether Santa Cruz wins or loses this would be a great opportunity to test yourself against the premier men of this sport. The reason I like this matchup more than the Vargas or Roman match is that I believe there is less of a window to seize this opportunity for Santa Cruz. Considering that Lomachenko is starting to become slightly limited on opposition and he’s older than the latter, this would be a great chance to make this happen. After his bout with Luke Campbell, Vasiliy has the winner of Richard Commey vs. Teofimo Lopez pinpointed, then not much else to choose from within the top-5 or 10 in the lightweight division that I would choose over a guy like Santa Cruz. I’m not sure Devin Haney is ready. He probably needs 2 or 3 stiffer challenges first. He has already defeated Crolla and Pedraza. We don’t really need to see him against guys like Rances Barthelemy or Javier Fortuna. Unfortunately, I also can’t imagine that Floyd Mayweather allows Gervonta Davis to step up to the plate anytime soon.
So, where does he go after Commey or Lopez? This is where Leo can step in and see what comes of it. Keep in mind that Santa Cruz is a tall guy for his weight. As a matter of fact, he is slightly taller than Vasiliy. Leo also has a hell of a chin, so this would test if it can hold up against the bigger guy. How about Inglewood Forum, Staples Center, Las Vegas, or Madison Square Garden for this?