Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles – WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) secured a dominant twelve round unanimous decision over a game Rafael Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs).
All three judges scored it 119-109 for the champion.
Santa Cruz was originally scheduled to fight Miguel Flores, who withdrew from the contest with injury. Rivera accepted the bout on late notice.
Rivera last in the ring in October, when he knocked out Jose Ramos in one round. Prior to that, his lost a close split decision to rising prospect Joet Gonzalez.
Santa Cruz made his mandatory defense in June of last year, when he won a dominant twelve round unanimous decision over Abner Mares in their ordered rematch. He wants to secure a unification in the coming months.
Santa Cruz was feeling Rivera out in the first round. Rivera was throwing a lot of punches. Santa Cruz was taking his time, and checking out what Rivera had to offer. They were trading hard punches in the final twenty seconds.
They started the second by trading more shots. Santa Cruz was landing more solid and doing well with hooks to the body. Rivera was mostly going to the head, with many of the punches being blocked. Santa Cruz was winning the battle when they traded on the inside.
Rivera was game in the third round, standing in there and trading with Santa Cruz. The much larger Santa Cruz was landing the bigger punches and the more accurate shots. Santa Cruz continued to work his fight, using a long jab in the fourth and following up with hooks to the body.
The punches were flying at close range in the fifth. Rivera was unable to budge or hurt Santa Cruz, who was outworking the challenger. Santa Cruz was showing off his better skills and overall punch variety in the seventh. Rivera was doing good work in the eight and landing solid punches in certain spots, but he wasn’t able to slow down Santa Cruz – who was throwing and landing far more punches.
The fight slowed down a bit in the ninth, with Santa Cruz dictating the pace and outlanding Rivera. They came together to exchange power punches in the final ten seconds. By the tenth round, Santa Cruz had already thrown over 1,000 punches. Rivera was doing well – not well enough to keep up with the workrate of the champion.
Santa Cruz continued to dictate matters in the eleventh and twelfth, outworking and outboxing Rivera to the final bell. Rivera, who has a solid chin, never stopped trying and Santa Cruz work for his win. They closed out the contest by trading wild punches on the inside as the crowd stood on their feet. Santa Cruz threw over 1,200 punches by the time the contest was finished.