By Keith Idec
Leo Santa Cruz’s rematch with Abner Mares isn’t the only one on the featherweight champion’s mind.
Santa Cruz obviously isn’t overlooking Mares, his opponent June 9 in Los Angeles. But if Santa Cruz can overcome Mares again in their second 126-pound title fight at Staples Center, he hopes that win leads toward a second shot at Gary Russell Jr.
Santa Cruz and Russell haven’t fought as professionals, but Santa Cruz still wants a chance to avenge a close loss to Russell when they were amateurs. A Russell-Santa Cruz clash would be one of the biggest featherweight fights that could be made if Santa Cruz beats Mares in their 12-round rematch.
“I am ready to unify with any of the featherweight champions,” Santa Cruz said during an open workout Tuesday in Los Angeles. “Me and Gary Russell Jr. fought in the amateurs. He beat me, but it was a good fight and I believe I can beat him. I know the tactics I’d use. Hopefully I can get my rematch.”
Russell successfully defended his WBC featherweight title against Joseph Diaz Jr. on Saturday night at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Though Russell hadn’t fought in almost exactly one year, the 2008 Olympian displayed the skills, speed and power in defeating Diaz by unanimous decision that make many believe he is the best featherweight in boxing.
Before Saturday night, the 29-year-old Russell (29-1, 17 KOs) hadn’t boxed since he stopped Colombia’s Oscar Escandon (25-3, 17 KOs) in the seventh round last May 19 at MGM National Harbor.
Russell, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, told Showtime’s Brian Custer following his win against Diaz (26-1, 14 KOs) that he would like to fight the winner of the Santa Cruz-Mares rematch next.
When they meet again two weeks from Saturday night, the 32-year-old Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs), of Montebello, California, will try to avenge a majority-decision defeat to Santa Cruz in a WBA featherweight championship match in August 2015 at Staples Center. The 29-year-old Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs), of Rosemead, California, won their first fight comfortably on two of three scorecards (117-111, 117-111, 114-114).
Showtime will air the Santa Cruz-Mares rematch as the main event of a doubleheader June 9. In the opener, Houston’s Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs) will make an optional defense of his WBC super welterweight title against Austin Trout (31-4, 17 KOs), a former WBA 154-pound champ from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.