By Jake Donovan
Watching Leo Santa Cruz handle himself in and out of the ring, his promoter – former six-division titlist Oscar de la Hoya – can’t help but reminisce about his own time spent in the ring.
“There are elements of Leo that remind me of when I fought,” de la Hoya admits. The latest example came on Thursday during Golden Boy’s toy drive in Los Angeles. The event was tied into the promotion for this Saturday’s massive fight card at the L.A. Sports Arena, portions of which will air on three separate networks.
Kicking off the weekend show is Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13KO) who faces Alberto Guevara in a scheduled 12-round bantamweight bout to air live on CBS (Saturday, 4:30PM ET/1:30PM PT). The bout serves as the first boxing broadcast to air on the network in more than 15 years, when Bernard Hopkins emphatically stopped then-unbeaten Glen Johnson in their middleweight title fight in July ’97.
The selection of Santa Cruz as the show’s lead comes at a time when the Mexican-American is one of boxing’s hottest commodities. Saturday will mark his fifth fight of the year, which includes three Showtime-televised appearances in the span of five months.
Santa Cruz returns to the ring just five weeks after his 9th round stoppage of Victor Zaleta, which also took place in Los Angeles. The quick turnaround mirrors that of a move early in the career of de la Hoya, who stopped John Avila in nine rounds on CBS in Dec. ’94.
The bout came on the heels of a pay-per-view undercard appearance – a 3rd knockout of Carl Griffith in the chief support to Roy Jones’ near-shutout win over James Toney. De la Hoya returned to the ring one month later in what served as his last ever appearance on free TV, with the rest of his eventual Hall of Fame career spent on HBO and its pay-per-view arm.
De La Hoya went on to become the sport’s highest grossing fighter of all-time, as well as one of its most accomplished in the ring. Marketing played a key role in his rise to stardom, but so too did constant hard work. The fighter-turned-promoter sees those very traits in his latest rising star.
“His work ethic and body punching, it definitely reminds me of when I fought,” de la Hoya states. “Leo is a quiet, soft-spoken guy. He’s likeable. He’s a fighter America will fall in love with.”
It didn’t take long for the boxing world to fall in love with de la Hoya, who boasted camera-friendly looks, media-friendly charisma and a fan-friendly style. His popularity was never more realized than upon his May ’06 ring return following a 20-month hiatus. A sixth-round knockout of Ricardo Mayorga generated more pay-per-view buys (925,000) than any two combined events that year.
One year later, de la Hoya headlined the highest grossing pay-per-view event of all time. The record breaking moment came in defeat, dropping a 12-round split decision to Floyd Mayweather, thus passing the torch in helping the American become boxing’s next big attraction.
More than 18 months later came de la Hoya’s last ever fight, which ended on his stool after eight rounds against Manny Pacquiao. The fight made de la Hoya realize he was a spent fighter, with nothing left to accomplish after collecting belts (lineal and alphabet) in six weight classes and his fights generating nearly $700 million in pay-per-view revenue.
That doesn’t mean he never stops wondering ‘what if;’ just that the scenario now comes with the realization of his proper role in the sport these days. Promoter for now, with the reminder of once was to come in June 2014, as he is a lock for Hall of Fame induction in his first year of eligibility.
“I have the temptation to return to the ring every single day,” de la Hoya admits. “But I accept that there is no way that I can compete at the highest level. If I were to come back, it would have to be at the highest level, and I know I can’t compete against the top guys anymore.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox