What’s next for Leo Santa Cruz?

When Leo Santa Cruz admitted at the beginning of the month that Al Haymon had bought out his contract from Golden Boy, after the former decided against further negotiations for a super-bantamweight unification fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Mexican drew the wrath of a boxing public, all too keen to write him off as a coward. Those assessing his actions on social media repeated a mantra that seemed more a vendetta against the talented WBC title holder rather than legitimate criticism. Their taunts of “running from Rigo” echoed far and wide.

Santa Cruz’s shyness to fight comes at a time when Rigondeaux has been shown to be fallible, with two knockdowns in his last outing. The difficulty for Santa Cruz appears to be being able to take heart from his most recent performances. Opposition that has included journeyman Manuel Roman and a less than heavy handed Jesus Ruiz brought comprehensive victories, but not the type of brawl expected of someone with an eye on becoming the best in the division. The investigation into whether he can move forward with such an ambition is becoming more than a cause for concern.

Supporter discontent is obvious and won’t be subdued until Santa Cruz shares a ring with a respected rival. Inside the boxing business, his professionalism has been maligned by those directly involved with the Rigondeaux negotiations. Golden Boy President Oscar de la Hoya has since expressed his disappointment on the matter while Rigondeaux’s manager Gary Hyde questioned the attitude of someone brazenly taking easy paydays at the expense of high profile fights.

Speaking to Behind the Gloves, Hyde was less than sympathetic to the suggestion that ‘El Terremoto’ should continue to be held in high regard within the 122 pound division.

“I don’t believe Leo Santa Cruz will ever fight anyone with a heartbeat. He is fighting complete and utter nobodies. I don’t want to be disrespectful toward any fighter, but the boxers he is fighting are a disgrace to boxing. (Having the opportunity) to fight them on big bills as well, is not fair.” Hyde’s words are representative of a lengthier discussion on Santa Cruz’s past rejections to participate in unification bouts.

A match-up with IBF titlist Carl Frampton was, according to Cyclone Promotions, effectively cast aside when the Belfast man became the mandatory challenger for the WBC title in April last year.

Some credence may be given to the idea that Santa Cruz’s development continues to be propped up by a very healthy television contract with Showtime. Indeed, a financial package upwards of $3 million could potentially have been retained had he opted to stay the course with the legendary Cuban.

Looking forward, the opportunity to secure a bout with noteworthy opposition is fast becoming a task with endless significance. Making weight with another sparring partner or fighter who registers only with the sports aficionado’s will all but end dreams of becoming an undisputed champion in the division. While the likelihood of such an achievement has already been written off in some quarters, being relegated to the position of afterthought to conversations involving Rigondeaux, Frampton and Scott Quigg would scupper expectations of becoming a box office draw.

Tempting to put the proud traditions of Mexican, willing-to-fight-anyone type of boxing to rest is a dicey game, too. Saul Alvarez, Juan Manuel Marquez and to a lesser degree Abner Mares, epitomise the hardy attitude of men reared by their country’s warrior-like psyche. They are to be revered and admired in equal measure, accepting of an underdog tag if facing pound for pound generals. In the case of Alvarez and Juan Manuel Marquez, both can attest to taking aim at the very best in Floyd Mayweather. Their boxeo compatriot takes his place among such company by birth right but not currently by showmanship. Instead, it is from the portrait of a Mexican male, observed by late national poet, Octavio Paz that Leodegario (Santa Cruz’s full name) seems cast. ‘Whether young or old, pure Spanish blood living in the Americas or of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, he seems to me, to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself: his face is his mask and so is his smile.’ Discarding this mask and showing himself to be ready for war is now the only favourable option for Santa Cruz.

The month of May decides a future WBC title challenge from either Andres Gutierrez or Hugo Ruiz. In the interim, a potential bout with Mares has been lost to a March contest for the former three division champion, as he takes part in Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions debut against Arturo Santos Reyes. Contemplating featherweight fights seems somewhat premature given the desire of others to do business at 122 pounds: but while Frampton gets ready to make a first IBF defence with Californian Chris Avalos next week and Rigondeaux frustrates himself with another duel in Japan (this time Shingo Wake), their intentions are indubitable.

Frampton wants a fight with Scott Quigg in the summer, while Hyde plans on shocking the WBA champion into action once he recovers from a lengthy injury to his right hand. “I’ll be looking to force that (Rigondeaux) fight, the minute I hear he is in the gym” he says.

The task then for Santa Cruz is a simple one, re-establish himself as a man of Mexican principal, make difficult decisions and finally engage with negotiations face to face, without the mask.

This article was published by behindthegloves.com on Sunday 22nd February 2015

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