By Lem Satterfield
Three-division and WBA “super” featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz will pursue his fourth straight victory in as many defenses “before six rounds” against twice-beaten Miguel Flores on February 16 on FOX (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT) in Los Angeles.
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, with each of those bouts taking place in the fighters’ native Los Angeles.
Santa Cruz has also defeated two-division title winner Carl Frampton (26-1, 15 KOs) by majority decision at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in a January 2017 rematch of Frampton’s victory the same way in July 2016 at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“El Terremoto” (The Earthquake) made it clear to BoxingScene.com that he wants to make a statement against Flores (23-2, 11 KOs), of Houston, Texas, with a stoppage inside of six rounds.
“I have to get past Miguel Flores and if I could pick, I wanna finish him before six rounds. But I’m going to be ready for 12 rounds,” said Santa Cruz of Los Angeles, historically a hot-bed for battles between legendary local Mexican-American boxers.
“It feels great to be fighting in my hometown of L.A. I’ve always wanted to fight here and to be in the main event. Thanks to [advisor] Al Haymon, because this means a lot to me. I want to prove that I’m the best featherweight in the division.”
Santa Cruz wants to cement himself as perhaps the best boxer at 126 pounds, having opened up a slew of possible matchups in one of the most sport’s talent-laden weight classes.
Santa Cruz-Mares was declared an eliminator for the WBC crown held by “Mr.” Russell, a 30-year-old southpaw who made his third title defense in May with a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Joseph Diaz Jr..
Santa Cruz, Mares and Russell are among several top 126-pounders competing in a deep weight class, with Oscar Valdez defending his WBO crown by unanimous decision over ex-champ Scott Quigg in March, and Frampton winning a clash of former champions for the WBO’s interim crown over Nonito Donaire in April.
Frampton has since knocked out previously unbeaten Luke Jackson in the ninth round in August, setting him up for a unification against IBF counterpart Josh Warrington on December 22.
“I’m very motivated and training very hard and want the Gary Russell fight because beating him will show I’m the best featherweight,” said Santa Cruz, who has been inactive since Mares followed an eighth-round knockout of Chris Avalos in October 2017.
“This is only my second fight of the year, so I want 2019 to be a big year. I want Carl Frampton and…I want Gary Russell. I want to put on the best featherweight fights, and those are the ones I’m looking for, and I think you’re gonna have them.”
The 26-year-old Flores scored a second-round TKO of Raul Chirino in April to rebound from consecutive sixth- and fifth-round stoppage losses to Dat Nguyen and Avalos in February and July 2017.
“I want to get past Miguel Flores,” said Santa Cruz. “And then I want to unify the division.”