By Tom Donelson / Author, Member Boxing Writers Association of America … contributor to dmboxing.com since 2008
Leo Santa Cruz fought Rafael Rivera, who took the fight on a three week notice in his first shot at a title.
Rivera had a competitive first round as he launched combinations and body shots and looked sharp but it seemed to have little effect upon Santa Cruz. Rivera is a good fighter up against a great fighter and after the second round, the great fighter took over. Rivera had lost two of three his previous fights and was replacing Miguel Flores but this was supposed to be a tune up for Santa Cruz and it proved mostly that even though Rivera had his moment.
The second round saw both fighters exchanging punches at the beginning of the round as Rivera came to win the fight despite being a heavy underdog. By the end of the round, Santa Cruz began to take control as he started to pound Rivera’s body. There is one thing about a Santa Cruz fight, Santa Cruz throws punches in bunches as he averaged over hundred punches per round in this fight. Rivera threw nearly 70 punches per round but in this bout, 70 punches per round looked like minimal effort when the other guys just keep throwing over 100 per round.
In the third round, Santa Cruz used his three inch reach to control the action and set up his left hook as he took control of the fight. Rivera continued to throw punches but many of them were blocked. Santa Cruz did enough to win rounds and Rivera gave all he had but it simply not enough. Through the ninth round, Rivera could not penetrate Santa Cruz defenses and Santa Cruz simple dominated the action.
Rivera started the tenth round by going after Santa Cruz in a desperate move to change the fight. He attempted to produce a fire fight but it was Santa Cruz who got the better of the exchanges. In the eleventh round Cruz came forward while Rivera tried to deliver the big punch to stop the charging Santa Cruz but he kept running to Santa Cruz’s punches, left jab to the face followed by over hand rights and then left hooks.
Rivera continued to throw punches but they were blocked by Santa Cruz’s defense. Santa Cruz defense proved effective as Rivera connected on only 19% and his defensive skills is underestimated. Rivera put up a good account but halfway through the fight, the results was preordained as Rivera never had a knock out after the third round and there was no evidence that Rivera could change the momentum or hurt Santa Cruz but there was plenty of evidence to show that Santa Cruz could land any combination he want and block any attempt of a Rivera offensive flurry.
All three judges were all in agreement with their scorecards: 119-109, eleven to one in rounds, for Santa Cruz.
Where does Santa Cruz go from here? There is Gary Russell, Jr., a master boxer. His only lost was to Lomachenko and he has three stoppages in his last four round. There is Oscar Valdez, the undefeated WBO Featherweight champion and the undefeated Josh Warrington who defeated Carl Frampton and there is Frampton himself for a trilogy. The latter fight might be better if Frampton actually held a title or defeats Warrington in rematch.
Santa Cruz has plenty of options and I suspect he will go after a champion to begin the unification of the title, so look for a fight with Russell, Jr., Valdez, or Warrington.