By Lem Satterfield
Miguel Flores is supremely focused on dethroning three-division and WBA “super” featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz on February 16 on FOX at a Los Angeles-based site to be determined, but the 26-year-old doesn’t believe his rival nor the boxing community views him as a threat.
“I’ve heard [on social media] ‘Miguel Flores is another taxi driver’ and ‘another bum,’ or ‘stay busy fight,’ but that’s okay,” said Flores, 26. “Like my manager, Luis DeCubas Jr., has been telling me, we know Leo Santa Cruz is the top dog, but I’m the type of fighter who is gonna rise to the occasion.”
Flores (23-2, 11 KOs) scored a second-round TKO of Raul Chirino in April to rebound from consecutive sixth- and fifth-round stoppage losses to Dat Nguyen and Chris Avalos in February and July 2017.
Flores gained a third-round knockdown and led, 48-46, on all three scorecards against Avalos, but a cut above his left eye was deemed too serious for him to continue after five rounds, awarding the controversial TKO victory to his opponent.
“The Nguyen fight was a tough loss that can happen to any up and coming fighter, and everyone knows the Avalos fight as a fluke,” said Flores of Avalos, whose last loss was by eighth-round TKO to Santa Cruz in October 2017.
“But I will come back better, and I’m the type of fighter who is going to come back and prove I belong with the top featherweights in the division.”
A Mexico-born, Houston-based, 5-foot-8 boxer-puncher, Flores had ascended in the rankings by defeating tough fighters with considerably more ring experience than his own.
Flores scored three unanimous decisions in 2016 as he dominated an aggressive right-handed countryman Mario Briones (January), a powerful southpaw Ruben Tamayo (May), and a slick-boxing Massachusetts native in Ryan Kielczweski (August).
“We’re very excited to fight Leo Santa Cruz. It’s a the opportunity of a lifetime and one we couldn’t pass up, but at the same time, we know we’re going against a top featherweight if not the No. 1 guy in the division,” said Flores.
“I’ve experienced just about everything that a young fighter can in his career. I’ve have had big wins, tough losses, I’ve been dropped and I’ve come back in fights. It was all just a matter of time and this is the perfect time for this opportunity.”
The 30-year-old Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) is coming off a hard-fought, unanimous decision over three-division counterpart Abner Mares in a June rematch of Santa Cruz’s majority decision win in August 2015.
Santa Cruz has also defeated two-division title winner Carl Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs) by majority decision in a January 2017 rematch of Frampton’s victory the same way in July 2016.
The wins have cemented Santa Cruz as one of the best boxers at 126 pounds, opening up a variety of potential matchups in one of the most talent-laden divisions in boxing.
“One of the main reasons we took this fight is that we know Leo Santa Cruz is a professional, and he’s going to grind hard in the gym, but every time he gives an interview he’s got to mention Gary Russell, Carl Frampton or other featherweights,” said Flores.
“I’m always the last one that he mentions even though I’m the guy he’s fighting, next. But every day I wake up, I only have one opponent in mind, and that’s Leo Santa Cruz. It’s going to be a big factor that he’s already thinking about unifying when he still has to get by me on February 16.”