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Santa Cruz stops Martinez; Frampton next?

SantaCruzMartines-2By Michael Montero: Saturday night in Anaheim California, a reported crowd of 7,780 rowdy fans lit up the Honda Center in anticipation of the Showtime Championship Boxing doubleheader headlined by local favorite Leo Santa Cruz, defending his featherweight title against veteran Kiko Martinez of Spain. For Santa Cruz, it was his first assignment since defeating Abner Mares in the “battle of LA” last summer. And for the faded, battle-worn Martinez, he was facing the first world class opponent since his devastating KO loss to Scott Quigg last July in England.

These two went to work from the opening bell, and it didn’t take long for Santa Cruz to establish his dominance. Early in the first he dropped Martinez with a chopping overhand right that appeared to land on the back of the head. The Spaniard rose to his feet and fought back with vigor, yet he was being man-handled by the younger, taller, longer Santa Cruz. Later in the round the undefeated titlist landed a left hook to the temple of Martinez, followed by a jab and textbook straight right to the chin that dropped him again. Once more the proud veteran rose to his feet and and swung back with determination; it was a terrific first round in which Santa Cruz threw 140 punches.

Martinez landed a nice combo early in the second round that momentarily put Santa Cruz off balance, his glove touching the canvas. Referee Raul Caiz Sr called it a slip, but many ringside felt it could have been called a knockdown. None the less Santa Cruz was unhurt and controlled the remainder of the round. It was more of the same in the third and fourth rounds as Martinez pressed forward and gave it his all, but Santa Cruz just had too much strength and size. In the fifth round Santa Cruz kicked it into high gear and teed off on his opponent with reckless abandon, catching Martinez on the ropes and throwing nonstop punches from every angle. The Spaniard tried to throw back, but appeared defenseless and Caiz Sr had seen enough. The fight was stopped giving Leo Santa Cruz the TKO victory, his first featherweight title defense, a seven-figure payday and improving his record to 32-0-1 (18KO).

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Immediately after the bout Santa Cruz called out Carl Frampton who, perhaps not by coincidence, called him out earlier in the evening after his victory over Scott Quigg in England. Frampton, the unified junior featherweight titlist, made it clear he would be willing to move up four pounds to meet the American for what would be one of the most anticipated match ups in the brief history of the PBC. Although Santa Cruz would enjoy significant height and reach advantages in that potential “UK vs USA” clash, it is important to remember he began his career as a bantamweight. If that fight were to come off, location would play a vital role. Santa Cruz has never fought outside of North America, and Frampton has only ventured outside of the United Kingdom once.

In the co-feature, fellow 122-pound Mexicans Julio Ceja and Hugo Ruiz rematched in what figured to be the bout of the evening. The first time these two met last August on the Santa Cruz-Mares undercard, Ceja won a vacant title via thrilling fifth round TKO. Fans were expecting more thrills in the rematch, but boxing is the theater of the unexpected.

In the opening seconds of the fight, Ruiz feinted with a jab to the body and followed with an overhand right that dropped Ceja. He fell awkwardly and appeared to injure his right ankle. Ceja quickly rose to his feet but was clearly injured, barely able to put weight on his right leg at all. Ruiz seized upon the opportunity, immediately teeing off on his defenseless opponent. Referee Tom Taylor had no choice but to stop it, giving Ruiz the TKO1 victory and the WBC 122 pound title. These two Mexicans have now split two fights. The anticlimactic finish to the rematch may have boxing fans asking for a rubber match as soon as Ceja recovers from his injuries. But just the same, it may have fans wanting to move on.

Three things we learned Saturday night in Anaheim:

1. Leo Santa Cruz is definitely a draw in the Los Angeles area
2. Sometimes the rematch just doesn’t live up to the original (Ruiz-Ceja)
3. Premier Boxing Champions does indeed have significant potential fights out there if they are willing to make them (Santa Cruz-Frampton)

Questions, comments, hate mail – you know what to do. Twitter / Youtube / Facebook / Instagram: @MonteroOnBoxing

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