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22 DECEMBER 2014

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Santa Cruz, Rested and Relaxed in 2013




As I walked through the beehive of activity that was the MGM Grand Hotel on the weekend of September 14th when Floyd Mayweather faced Saul Alvarez in the year’s biggest boxing event, I was struck by a particular scene near the Rouge (a favorite watering hole for us boxing scribes) and the adjacent slot machines. A huge throng of cameras emerged and fans who had come in for all the festivities swarmed around one Leo Santa Cruz.

Yeah, he now draws a crowd in these settings.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Santa Cruz was that proverbial beige spot on a beige wall, who didn’t even warrant a second glance from those around him. He would even go typically unnoticed at local club shows out here in Southern California and sit anonymously at those cards with his father. The reigning WBC super bantamweight beltholder who defends his crown against Cesar Seda this weekend at the Alamodome in San Antonio (Showtime 8 p.m., ET/5 p.m., PT) has come a long way.


And “Teremoto” is more than happy to oblige his adoring public.
 
“I like doing what I do. I owe it all to the fans,” he said to Maxboxing last week at the Who’s Next Boxing Academy in the City of Industry before his days work. “When they come up to me, I stay there till there’s no more fans. Some other fighters, they leave right away or they just stay there a little while. I stay there till all the fans are taken care of.”
 
Santa Cruz doesn’t mind the recognition. In fact, he seems to relish it. “It’s exciting. It makes me happy knowing that there’s a lot of people that know you and stuff like that. It makes you value all the things you’ve done.”
 
He may not be a superstar or a marquee attraction just yet but it’s clear he’s a fighter on the rise, of blue-chip boxing stock. He’s developing a following because of his fan-friendly style and affable demeanor. Santa Cruz began 2012 as a relative unknown, an overlooked prospect on the West Coast. He ended it as a fighter on the rise. He not only became a Showtime staple but also made a rare appearance on CBS to close out the year. It was at that point when his career and life had changed.
 
“My career has been going up ever since I’ve been with my manager [Al Haymon] and my life too has changed,” said the 25-year-old Santa Cruz, 25-0-1 (15). “I can say I have everything I need. I have a house and I don’t really struggle much like before. We used to struggle a lot and stuff like that.” But don’t worry about motivation being a problem for him. Boxing isn’t really just what he does; it’s what he is. Santa Cruz has a work ethic and passion for the sport that is rare. “I stood the same because I want the best for my family and what I’ve been doing right now, it’s enough. I want to do a lot more, win more titles in different weights, so I can get my family and my daughter a good life.”
 
Moving forward, less will be more for Santa Cruz. The days of him performing five times a year are probably over. As he makes more money and gets involved in more high-profile events, he won’t fight as frequently but will make more money in doing so. Such is the boxing business in the 21st century. This year, there was an emphasis on scaling back his workload after an active 2012.
 
Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker, Eric Gomez, who has mapped out this career says, “Obviously, once you’re a champion, you gotta get your rest and that’s a big part of it and Leo’s just a workhorse. He doesn’t believe in rest. So after we saw he was sluggish towards the end of last year, he had looked very sharp and strong [at the beginning of the year] and you could see he was tired a little bit. And it’s a combination of also that he’s a growing kid. He’s getting bigger and stronger, so we felt that the rest was going to do him good and also let him grow into his body. So now obviously, he’s a champion. Most champions fight maybe twice a year, maybe three times - but he’s getting paid well now. He’s making some good money and he’s getting paid well and it seems like it worked out for the best.”
 
Last year, Santa Cruz fought Victor Zaleta on November 10th (scoring a ninth round stoppage) and he had a quick turnaround, decisioning Alberto Guevara on December 15th. He looked especially flat versus Guevara and did not return to the ring till this past May 4th, when he halted the faded Alexander Munoz on the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero undercard.
Rest was a much-needed remedy.
 
“Yeah, it was because when I fought in November and then December, I did feel kind of tired. My body didn’t feel the same as other times. But we learned from that fight and we’re going to take more time to rest and not hurry into fights,” said Santa Cruz, who admitted the long hiatus from the ring was something he had problems adjusting to.
 
If he gets past Seda on Saturday night, there’s a strong likelihood he’ll return to action on February 15th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Perhaps three appearances a year is a happy middle ground for everyone involved in this career. “Yeah, and it all depends on how [Santa Cruz] does in the fights. If he has fights like he did the last time where he went three rounds, you play it by ear. You see how he does in the fights and hopefully, he’s not taking too much punishment,” said Gomez. “But if he’s fresh like that and he looks good and he knocks guys out, then he could go right back because he’s in shape. But yeah, he’s growing into his own and he’s a very exciting fighter.”
 
Santa Cruz says of his 2013, “It’s been great. The fights have been different because last year, I fought five times. This year I’ll fight three. I got more rest. I wanted to fight more times but my manager thought taking more time off was better, so I agree with them and right now, I’m really happy with what’s going on this year.”
 
SEDA
 
So what does Santa Cruz have to say about his upcoming foe, Seda?
 
“He’s a good fighter. He’s got good punches, good power. He’s lefty, so it makes it a little difficult but we’re ready for anything,” he said.


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