It's fitting that the prolific punching Leo Santa Cruz's 2012 campaign was built on volume. In five fights, he stuffed a four round TKO win over Alejandro Hernandez, won the vacant IBF title against Vusi Malinga and squeezed in three title defenses -- two of which were held just 35 days apart -- before vacating at year's end. For some fighters that represents a three-year stretch but Santa Cruz wasn't the worse for wear.
On Saturday Santa Cruz begins a more sedate 2013 season by making his 122-pound debut against former two-time 115-pound titlist Alexander Munoz, a 34-year-old veteran who created a splash by scoring 23 straight KOs to start his career, then switched to a volume-punching approach to navigate the sport's top levels.
Buzzsaw vs. Buzzsaw -- who could ask for anything more?
Their respective CompuBox histories offer some clues as to who will win -- and why:
Enviable Combination: Santa Cruz is the rare fighter who combines prodigious volume with extraordinary accuracy, and for opponents that means a world of pain.
That world of pain was best illustrated against Malinga, a bout in which Santa Cruz was involved in the 30th fight in CompuBox annals in which a fighter landed at least 400 punches in a title fight. Averaging 112.5 punches per round, Santa Cruz landed 410 of 1,350 overall. The latter number represents the fourth-highest total in CompuBox history among bantamweights and that's not all the notable divisional marks he set in that bout.
* His 853 power punches were the second most in division history;
* His 327 power connects were fourth highest in division annals;
* His 497 jab attempts were the 10th highest ever recorded at 118.
These numbers weren't a onetime phenomenon. The average bantamweight throws 61.7 punches per round, but in 2012 he averaged, in order, 122.7, 112.5, 101.8, 98 and 82.4. That calculates to 98.9 punches per round over five fights. Moreover, Santa Cruz out-landed his opponents by an incredible 21.9 punches per round (35.4 vs. 13.5) and nearly 18 power connects per round (28.5 vs. 10.8).
But if his volume wasn't punishing enough, his precision is even more so. In his five 2012 fights Santa Cruz landed 35.8% of his total punches and 46.2% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Given his high work rate, his defensive numbers are impressive because his foes landed a combined 20.8% of their total punches, 11.4% of their jabs and 26.2% of their power punches. Santa Cruz isn't a defensive wizard like Floyd Mayweather Jr., but in his own way he represents the credo "hit and don't be hit" as well as anyone today.
Shifting Approach: Nicknamed "El Explosivo," Munoz initially built his reputation on one-punch power. In fact, Munoz scored 129 knockouts in 163 wins and he began his pro career by running off 23 straight knockouts -- among the longest such strings in boxing history. But after he reached world level his knockouts are fewer and farther between, for in his last 17 fights he's scored just five knockouts. To compensate, Munoz became a volume puncher and as of late the results have been mixed.
Munoz regained the WBA super flyweight belt from Katsushige Kawashima by being the far busier man (79.6 per round to 42.1) and the fresher fighter when it counted most. In the final two rounds Munoz out-landed Kawashima 48-29 (total) and 32-26 (power) en route to connect advantages of 227-152 (total), 71-34 (jabs) and 156-118 (power) and a split decision that should have been unanimous.
In his 115-pound unification fight against WBC counterpart Cristian Mijares the reverse scenario was true -- fast start, slower finish. Munoz controlled the early rounds with his busier hands and out-landed Mijares 47-36 (total) and 35-16 (power). Once Mijares found his rhythm the tide changed dramatically. Mijares' defensive prowess combined with superior sharpness (36%-18% total, 30%-11% jabs, 41%-21% power) wore down Munoz. In the final five rounds Mijares prevailed 113-71 (total), 42-12 (jabs) and 71-59 (power) to win a split decision that the Mexican appeared to win clearly.
His most recent title crack against Koki Kameda for the vacant WBA bantamweight belt saw Kameda's sharpshooting (40%-17% total, 17%-7% jabs, 45%-25% power) trump Munoz's volume (79.7 vs. 37.6 per round). Despite throwing less than half the punches Munoz threw (451 vs. 956), Kameda out-landed Munoz 182-159 (total) and 169-126 (power).
Prediction: Munoz is 0-2 in his previous visits to the U.S. and after Saturday it will be 0-3. Santa Cruz is 11 years younger, the naturally bigger man and someone who will be more comfortable at 122 than Munoz will be. If a knockout comes it will be over the long haul but the most likely result will be a lopsided unanimous decision.