By Jake Donovan
It’s expected for a young fighter to eventually outgrow a weight class, even more so when he towers over the competition.
Leo Santa Cruz is 24 years old. At 5’7”, few bantamweights in the world can look the unbeaten titlist in the eye, much less stand toe to toe with him in the ring. Six years into his career, the young rising star is entering his optimal prime.
Naturally, there stands a chance that his bantamweight title defense with unbeaten Alberto Guevera this weekend will be his last.
“I’ve been planning to move up for a few months. But the opportunities have kept coming for me so I stayed here,” admits Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13KO).
The biggest opportunity comes this weekend, when he headlines a live broadcast on CBS (Saturday, 4:30PM ET/1:30PM PT). The bout – a bantamweight title defense against Alberto Guevara at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles - is first to air on the free network in more than 15 years, when Bernard Hopkins manhandled then-unbeaten Glen Johnson in 11 rounds way back in July ’97.
Hopkins stuck around at middleweight for another eight years, unifying the division and securing more alphabet title defenses than any other champ in the division’s rich history.
Santa Cruz is making the second defense of the alphabet belt he acquired with a 12-round shutout over Vusi Malinga in June. Just don’t expect him to make a run at any records requiring divisional longevity.
Later in the evening, the CBS portion of the show at the Sports Arena will give way to the Showtime cameras, with that part of the card headlined by the ring return of Amir Khan. Running opposite the broadcast is a pair of 122 lb. fights on HBO – lineal champ Nonito Donaire against Jorge Arce, and Guillermo Rigondeaux in an alphabet title defense against Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym.
The aforementioned bouts are presented by Top Rank, which means the likelihood of Santa Cruz – a Golden Boy fighter – facing either winner is minimal. He does, however, stand a very good chance of one day facing Abner Mares, whose career soared to new heights following a thrilling points win over Anselmo Moreno last month in Los Angeles.
Santa Cruz was an interested observer in the main event, particularly given his role in the co-feature when he stopped Victor Zaleta in nine one-sided rounds. His placement on the show lent heavy speculation that a meeting of the night’s winners was a reasonable expectation for the near future.
The concept certainly isn’t lost on this weekend’s matinee attraction.
“[I]f there is an opportunity to fight for the belts at 122, then my plan is to move up and for this fight to be my last at 118,” Santa Cruz admits.
Given the mass defection of bantamweight talent to the super bantamweight division over the course of the past year, there is little to keep Santa Cruz at the weight.
One possibility would be a showdown with Moreno, who still holds a bantamweight title and is promoted by Golden Boy. From a convenience standpoint, it’s an easy fight to make. However, it’s not necessarily one that averts attention from more lucrative fights that await one division north.
“If the people want it and ask for it and think it’s a good fight, and my manager and promoters think it’s a good fight, then I’m ready for anything,” Santa Cruz responds to the suggestion of one day facing Moreno. “If it happens, it happens.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox