After ample speculation about what would happen on the scale, fans got the best kind of anti-climax.
And now, fans have a fight.
Saturday night (Showtime PPV, 8 PM EST), one of the more accomplished fighters from bantamweight to featherweight in recent vintage, Leo Santa Cruz, will look to stop a rise to greater stardom in his fourth weight class. Santa Cruz has won a belt, and a fight, in the class already but this the real test.
Gervonta Davis will look to punctuate his time at 130 lbs. The younger man has been impressively developed as an attraction but it’s felt at times, since a win over Jose Pedraza, like he hasn’t been fully unleashed. Santa Cruz is the best fighter and biggest name Davis has seen to date. There is an exciting crew of talent at Jr. lightweight and lightweight and fortunes there to be made.
A win here is a must.
Regular readers will notice a change in the stats and stakes below. While the current and former titlists defeated is easy enough to put together, it can be misleading as a measure of quality. It doesn’t present context; some former champions can be far past their sell by date for instance. Going forward, there will be notable outcomes to focus on fighters who were rated in the top ten by Ring Magazine and/or TBRB when fighters defeated them. Additional titlists faced will also be there.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Leo Santa Cruz
Titles: WBA Super Featherweight “Super” (2019-Present, 1st Attempted Defense); WBA Featherweight “Super” (2015-16, 1 Defense; 17-Present, 3 Defenses);
Previous Titles: WBC Super Bantamweight (2013-15, 4 Defenses); IBF Bantamweight (2012-13, 3 Defenses)
Height: 5’7 ½
Weight: 129 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Rosemead, California
Record: 37-1-1, 19 KO
Press Rankings: At 126 - #1 (TBRB); At 130 - #2 (Boxing Monthly), #4 (BoxRec), #8 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 16-1, 7 KO
Last Five Opponents: 131-11-3 (.920)
Notable Outcomes, Ring/TBRB Rated Foes: Eric Morel RTD5, Victor Terrazas KO3, Cristian Mijares UD12, Abner Mares MD12, Kiko Martinez TKO5, Carl Frampton L12, Carl Frampton MD12, Abner Mares UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Alexander Munoz TKO5
Titles: None (Holds WBA sub-title at lightweight, 2019-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: IBF Super Featherweight (2017, 1 Defense); WBA Super Featherweight (2018-19, 2 Defenses)
Height: 5’5 ½
Weight: 129 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Baltimore, Maryland
Record: 23-0, 22 KO
Press Rankings: At 130 - #2 (TBRB); At 135 - #3 (BoxRec), #4 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #9 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 6 KO
Last Five Opponents: 137-10-1 (.929)
Notable Outcomes, Ring/TBRB Rated Foes: Jose Pedraza TKO7
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Hugo Ruiz KO1; Yuriorkis Gamboa TKO12
The Case for Santa Cruz: While part of the promotional hook is having belts at Jr. lightweight and lightweight on the line, Santa Cruz’s position as a primary WBA titlist and both men soundly making the 130 lb. limit makes this more a title defense than anything. It’s one where he defends his belt against a man who never lost it in the ring. Much has been made of the size difference but it’s not as large as cynics might think they see. Santa Cruz has been at featherweight (126 lbs.) or better for close to six years. Santa Cruz is taller, longer, and more experienced. Santa Cruz is facing arguably the best puncher of his career and one who is quicker than him. He’s likely to be hit, and hit hard, sometime early in the fight. If there is a concern, it’s that Santa Cruz’s career sort of hit cruise control after the Abner Mares rematch. He’s in with the first guy who gives him something to be genuinely concerned about in more than two years and, as the veteran, he’ll have to be able to hit his next gear when those concerns are raised in leather. If he can handle Davis’s power, Santa Cruz has to get his jab going and use straight punches to give himself space to avoid continuous shots that can catch him blind. Davis has the sort of explosiveness that can win rounds with less output. Santa Cruz has to use the activity he’s known for to keep Davis off balance and force his work rate to the attention of the judges. Santa Cruz is a good but not overwhelming puncher so his game is about winning enough rounds.
The Case for Davis: Youth, speed, and power are Davis’s obvious advantages and we may only have seen a hint of what he’s capable of. Davis dominated and decimated Pedraza for his first belt. No one, win or lose, has come close to doing the same to the durable Pedraza since. If Santa Cruz can’t get Davis’s respect, will the moment bring out a sort of star cementing performance? Or is there a threat that early success in the fight could actually be a problem for Davis, where he goes looking for a finish and lets rounds go? There are occasions where Davis seems to work less than he could. While less experienced as a pro, Davis still hasn’t had that many fights and there’s many reasons to think we’ve been watching a work in progress. If he’s not been overly challenged in his matchmaking since Pedraza, struggles on the scale in fights before this one might suggest his team was waiting for Davis to mature beyond the ring to be fully ready for a deeper run against the field. If that’s the case, Friday’s weigh-in suggests his move to bigger names may have been timed appropriately.
The Pick: Santa Cruz has been a steady, sometimes underrated force for most of the last decade. He’ll need all the wrinkles he’s picked up along the way on Saturday, and his preparation suggests how seriously he’s taken this one. So does Davis’s and Davis is an exceptional physical threat. Santa Cruz’s deficits in power and explosiveness are going to matter here. Davis being first, and with force, is going to check some of the output and if Santa Cruz tries to make it rough inside it says here Davis will do fine in the trenches. Davis is physically strong too. This feels like Davis’s time and the pick is Davis by late stoppage or sound decision in a good show.
This isn’t the only big main event on Saturday...Oleksandr Usyk makes his second start at heavyweight since leave cruiserweight with longtime divisional stalwart Dereck Chisora. Some see the potential for an upset. It’s unclear beyond size. Chisora may have a moment of two but the jab and footwork of Usyk should make this target practice. Usyk wide, and likely by stoppage...At bantamweight, Naoya Inoue makes his second US start with one intriguing X-factor: what’s up with his eye? His physical scars from the Nonito Donaire fight make what happens if he gets hit hard at least of interest. Based on what we’ve seen from both he and contender Jason Moloney so far though, there is no reason to guess at an upset. Inoue by knockout is a safe pick almost every time he gets in the ring and is the pick here.
Rold Picks 2020: 22-9
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org