Leo Santa Cruz never thought he’d be a world champion during his formative years as a teen. When he won his first world title in 2012, he compared it to winning the lottery.
Las month, Santa Cruz made his junior lightweight debut against Miguel Flores and hit the jackpot by winning a title in a fourth weight class (vacant WBA 130 pound title). In doing so, he joined recently crowned light heavyweight champion Canelo Alvarez as well as Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce as the only Mexican crownholders across four divisions. Santa Cruz also has won titles at the 118, 122 and 126-pound divisions.
Santa Cruz said he’s beginning to build a case to receive a bust as a Hall of Fame fighter in Canastota, New York.
“I’m very happy to be a champion again. Being a four-division champion hopefully takes me to the Hall of Fame,” said Santa Cruz. “I’ll leave the debate up for others. I do want to go into the Hall of Fame. Once I get the big fights with Gary Russell Jr. and Gervonta Davis, those are going to be the ones that put me up there.”
When asked if he had a preference on which fighter he’d like to face first as he embarks on a route to be forever immortalized, Santa Cruz preferred Davis because he believes “Tank” is the stronger fighter.
“Whoever steps up to the plate. Those are the fights I want in 2020. It has to be one of them,” said Santa Cruz. “I want to go with the strongest and best fighter. I know Gervonta can make 130 pounds. But if he can’t make 130, then we’ll do it at 135. Gary said he wanted to move up to 130, so if he wants to move up, I will give him the opportunity.”
Santa Cruz thinks that since he looked a bit vulnerable in the Flores fight, Davis or Russell Jr. will finally step up to the plate and accept his challenge.
“That’s what I want. I want them to take the fight, and go for it. They are going to make a big mistake,” said Santa Cruz. “I’m going to work on my mistakes [from the Flores fight] and improve on my power and be a lot better. I’m going to adjust to this new weight class.”
If Santa Cruz were to rate his average performance against Flores, it would be “not good,” he said.
“I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I didn’t do anything well in the fight,” he said. “I fought my heart out and did the best that I could. I was surprised by how tough the fight was with Flores. I knew he was going to come with everything. He came prepared and gave a great fight. My dad was telling me I needed to win the exchanges and pressure him.
“If Gervonta and I fight, I will work really hard, a lot better than the Flores fight. He will not like my pressure. If it gets passed four rounds with Davis, he’ll get tired and overwhelmed. That will be my plan to beat him.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports and hosts his own radio show in Los Angeles. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at [email protected].