SAN ANTONIO – Leo Santa Cruz’s chin has been one of his greatest strengths since he turned pro 14 years ago.
That ability to take a punch is among the reasons Santa Cruz is so confident he’ll pull off an upset against Gervonta Davis on Saturday night at Alamodome. The dangerous Davis has knocked out 96 percent of his opponents (23-0, 22 KOs), but Santa Cruz contends that he hasn’t legitimately been knocked down in any of his 39 professional fights, let alone knocked out.
Journeyman Robert DaLuz officially is the only opponent who has scored a knockdown versus Santa Cruz. According to Santa Cruz, that knockdown shouldn’t have even counted because DaLuz landed a rabbit punch that made Santa Cruz take a knee in the fourth round of their August 2009 bout in Pala, California.
Santa Cruz even remembers the referee apologizing to him after he came back to defeat DaLuz by unanimous decision in their six-rounder because the replay the referee watched after their fight showed that DaLuz (then 12-19-3) fouled him before Santa Cruz went down.
“He hit me on the back of the head and my legs got wobbly,” Santa Cruz told BoxingScene.com. “My dad saw that. I was moving and my legs were still wobbly, and my dad said, ‘Take a knee,’ so I could recover. I did take a knee. When I got up, my legs were still wobbly. And then my dad said, ‘Hey, when they say fight, hug him or do something.’
“Instead of hugging him, I just went at it with him, and I started throwing punches and everything. I almost knocked him out. The fans got crazy, and then the round finished. But then I recovered quick. But yeah, it was on the back of the head.”
The 32-year-old Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), of Rosemead, California, hasn’t been down since taking that knee in his 11th professional fight. The four-division champion recalls Carl Frampton as the only opponent who has buzzed him with a legal punch throughout his whole career.
Santa Cruz quickly recovered from that right hand in his first fight with Frampton, who beat Santa Cruz by 12-round majority decision in July 2016 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“Carl Frampton hit me a little bit on the temple,” Santa Cruz said. “I went off balance, but it wasn’t where I was actually hurt, hurt. It was like a flash thing. That was the only time.”
Santa Cruz avenged his lone loss to Northern Ireland’s Frampton in their immediate rematch, another 12-round featherweight title fight that took place in January 2017 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Defeating Davis would represent the biggest win of Santa Cruz’s career. The 25-year-old Davis is a 7-1 favorite to win their 12-round, 130-pound fight for Santa Cruz’s WBA “super” 130-pound title and Davis’ WBA world 135-pound championship.
Davis-Santa Cruz will headline Showtime Pay-Per-View’s four-fight telecast ($74.99; 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.