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Leo Santa Cruz faces Miguel Flores on Feb.16 in Los Angeles, CA

John Molina Leo Santa Cruz

By Dan Ambrose: WBA Super World featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz will be making a voluntary defense against struggling fringe contender Miguel Flores (23-2, 11 KOs) on February 16. This is not a great defense for Santa Cruz, as he’s facing an opponent in 26-year-old Flores that has lost two out of his last three fights. It’s not too common for champions to defend against guys with a 1-2 record in their last three fights like Flores.

(Photo credit: Luis Mejia/TGB Promotions)

It’s an interesting choice by Santa Cruz’s management to select Flores rather than the guys that beat him or someone far better. Santa Cruz vs. Flores has ‘showcase’ written all over it. In other words, it’s a mismatch in favor of the 30-year-old Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs).

Santa Cruz vs. Flores will be televised on Premier Boxing Champions on FOX & FOX Deportes at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California. The televised portion of the card starts at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT.

Flores has recent losses to Chris Avalos and 36-year-old Dat Nguyen. Avalos (27-6, 20 KOs) is a good fighter, but he’s lost four out of his last six fights. Avalos beat Flores though, which makes Santa Cruz look bad in him choosing to fight him rather than someone else.

To top it off, Santa Cruz defeated Avalos by an 8th round knockout in October 2017. Santa Cruz says he wants to fight the best, but his resume suggests otherwise. Fighting Flores after beating Abner Mares in a needless rematch last June, and Avalos before that shows that there’s a lot of soft opposition being thrown in there with Santa Cruz.

“When I say that I want to unify the featherweight division, I’m not looking past Miguel Flores,” Santa Cruz in trying to show the boxing public that he’s not overlooking his over-matched voluntary challenger Flores. “I want to unify against any of the champions. I want any of the champions in 2019 and I want to become the featherweight king.”

It would have been nice if Santa Cruz’s management used the February 16 date for the unification fights that he’s talking about. Facing a fringe contender like Flores is a waste of time. It’s a race to the bottom for Santa Cruz. It’s a fight that does nothing to increase his popularity in the boxing world, as there’s no upside with this type of mismatch. When you pick out a guy that has lost two out of his last three fights, and was beaten by someone that you recently beat, it looks really bad in the eyes of the knowledgeable boxing fans. But it’s unclear what Santa Cruz’s management is hoping to gain in putting him in Flores. Perhaps they see it a fight where the casual fans, who don’t follow the sport closely enough to know who is good and who is bad, will be ecstatic after Santa Cruz beats Flores. They’ll likely not be aware that this is a designed mismatch.

“People are going to be in for a treat on February 16,” Flores said. “We have two Mexican fighters going toe-to-toe. You’re going to want to show up to see this one.”

It’s nice that the Santa Cruz vs. Flores fight will be a far for a certain amount of rounds, but it would be far better if this was a competitive match. Santa Cruz needs to be fighting guys like WBC champion Gary Russell Jr., WBO champion Oscar Valdez, IBF champion Josh Warrington or Shakur Stevenson. Those would be interesting fights, especially Valdez. That’s a guy that Santa Cruz should be pushing his management to try and face, not a journeyman level fighter like Miguel Flores. That’s a bad fight for the boxing fans.

Santa Cruz is well above this level of opponent at this point in his career. You hate to say it, but Santa Cruz’s management are taking him backwards putting him in with the likes of Flores, Avalos and Mares. Those are night the type of fights that Santa Cruz should be taking at this point in his career. He’s 30-years-old now, and he should be fighting the other champions at 126 in unification matches. It would be a shame if Santa Cruz burns through the remainder of his prime facing bottom basement fighters that are little more than high level journeyman fighters. Flores losing to 36-year-old Nat Nguyen looks really bad, as does him losing to Avalos as well.

On the Santa Cruz vs. Flores undercard, former two time world title challenger John Molina Jr. (30-7, 24 KOs) will be facing unbeaten former World Boxing Council lightweight champion Omar Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) in a 12 round fight at light welterweight. This fight might turn out to be the best one on the card by far. On paper, Molina Jr. vs. Figueroa is a great fight. It’s a much better fight than the mismatch in the main event between Santa Cruz and the floundering Flores with his 1-2 record in his last three fights.

Figueroa, 29, is a talented fighter with with an exciting fighting style. Figueroa is a superb inside fighter with a high volume work rate. In some ways, Figueroa is more entertaining to watch than Santa Cruz, because he’s capable of throwing nonstop punches for an entire round. Santa Cruz doesn’t do that. He backs off and jabs his opponents from the outside, and then comes forward to mix it up.

Santa Cruz used to slug like Figueroa, but he stopped doing that after he lost to Carl Frampton in their first fight in 2016. Figueroa hasn’t fought in a year and a half since beating former two division world champion Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero by a third round knockout in July 2017. That was a devastating performance by Figueroa with him dropping Guerrero five times in the fight before it was stopped in the 3rd. After the fight, Guerrero called it quits in retiring from boxing. Guerrero discovered that he wasn’t in the same class as Figueroa when it comes to fighting on the inside. Guerrero kept taking his eyes off Figueroa in close, and he was getting nailed by huge shots. Guerrero found out that he wasn’t as skilled as Figueroa on the inside. Molina might find out the same thing if he dares to fight Figueroa in close the way Guerrero did.

Molina, 36, didn’t fight at all in 2018. In his last fight, he stopped Ivan Redkach in the third round in December 2017. That was a good win for Molina Jr. He was beaten by former WBC/WBO light welterweight champion Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford by an 8th round knockout in December 2016.

The inactivity for Molina Jr. in the last couple of years could make it hard for him to compete with Figueroa. Although Figueroa has been inactive too, he’s a younger fighter with a better engine than Molina. Unless Figueroa’s hand problems keep him from loading up on his shots, he should win this fight. However, it’s still not a given that Figueroa will make it to the fight without pulling out due to injury problems. This wouldn’t be the first time if Figueroa suffers an injury in training camp and needs to pull out of the fight. But if he’s healthy and makes it tot he fight, Figueroa will likely have too much youth, fire power and superior inside fighting skills for Molina.

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