WBA Featherweight World Champion Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) retained his title in front of his hometown crowd by winning a unanimous decision over Rafael Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs) in the main event of Premier Boxing Champions on FOX and FOX Deportes Saturday night from Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
“I want to thank all the fans that came out tonight to support me,” said Santa Cruz. “I tried to do my best and do what I could to give them a great fight. I would have loved to have been even better, but he’s a really tough and solid opponent. I hit him hard to the body and head very well, but he didn’t go down.”
Santa Cruz got off to his usual fast start, throwing hard hooks to the body and mixing in uppercuts to try to keep his opponent at bay. When Rivera initiated the offense, Santa Cruz was able to counter with precision, snapping back the head of his opponent and oftentimes stopping in his tracks.
Rivera had some success with a counter left hook he threw as Santa Cruz threw his own, but was unable to put together enough offense to win early rounds. As the fight reached the middle rounds, Rivera began to try to smother Santa Cruz and negate his reach advantage, before trying to catch him with a big power shot. According to CompuBox, 252 of the combined 441 punches landed in the fight were done so in close range.
“I’m very happy with my performance and I thought I gave everyone a great fight,” said Rivera. “I was in there with one of the best fighters in the world and throwing punches and exchanging with him. More than anything, I’m very proud to have fought 12 rounds with a great world champion like Leo Santa Cruz.”
As Santa Cruz continued to control the pace of the fight, he began to use more of his boxing ability that his father and trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, who has been battling cancer, was encouraging him to exhibit.
“My father means the world to me,” said Santa Cruz. “When I step in the ring, I say that I don’t want to let my dad down. I want to keep him happy so he can keep fighting his cancer.”
Rivera continued to battle until the final bell, including a wild final 10 seconds of the final round that saw both men throwing an intense barrage of punches before the bout ended.
“People will know me better now and it was a great experience,” said Rivera. “I want to continue to push towards another world title opportunity. I want to be a world champion, but it didn’t happen tonight. I will continue to fight and show everyone what I can do.”
After 12 rounds, all three judges saw the fight in Santa Cruz’s favor by the score of 119-109. According to CompuBox, the 1,350 punches thrown by Santa Cruz were the second most of his career.
“I want to fight the best,” said Santa Cruz. “I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or have a third fight with Carl Frampton. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division.”