Lem’s Corner: As his father battles cancer, Santa Cruz preps for title defense against Frampton

As usual, when Leo Santa Cruz defends his 126-pound title against Carl Frampton on July 30, he’ll do so under the guidance of a family member. Except this time, his brother Antonio will be his cornerman rather than his father and longtime trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, who is undergoing treatment for bone cancer.

Leo Santa Cruz and Jose Santa Cruz

Jose Santa Cruz, the father and longtime trainer of 126-pound champion Leo Santa Cruz, is battling bone cancer as his son gets ready for his July 30 fight against Carl Frampton. (Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions)

Jose Santa Cruz, 56, was recently diagnosed with stage 3 myeloma in his spine that will require surgery. On May 10, he began a monthlong series of “at least 10” chemotherapy treatments, said Leo Santa Cruz, who remains optimistic about his father’s long-term prognosis.

“Reports about my father’s responses to the chemo have been really good; the cancer seems to be going into remission,” Leo Santa Cruz says. “Before, my dad really couldn’t come to the gym because he could barely walk or stand up, but now he’s doing much better, he's feeling better and he’s right here in camp with us today.”

Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs), a 27-year-old three-division champion, will make the second defense of his 126-pound crown against former 122-pound titleholder Carl Frampton at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

He won his title August 29 with a majority decision over fellow Southern California-based Mexican Abner Mares in an action-packed, 12-round brawl at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Then in his first defense on February 27, Santa Cruz scored a fifth-round TKO of former champion Kiko Martinez at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Santa Cruz says his brother worked right alongside his father in each of his last four bouts, so he’s confident the transition will be smooth. He added that he expects Jose Santa Cruz to be a presence in training camp as much as his health allows.

“My dad is going to continue coming to the gym when he doesn’t have appointments and depending on how he feels,” Leo Santa Cruz says. “He’ll correct us in what we’re doing, our strategy and letting us know what punches to throw. But I prefer that he doesn’t have too much stress, so I don’t think he’ll be able to work the mitts or anything else like that, but everything is going great.”

As difficult as it will be preparing for and fighting Frampton while his father is in the midst of his own battle, Leo Santa Cruz says he’s buoyed by his old man’s tough-minded spirit.

“My dad is really strong, and he’s always said that if you have a strong mind, then you can overcome everything,” Leo Santa Cruz says. “If you’re going to go in the ring and beat someone, and you really believe in yourself, then you can do it.

“Also, we’ve all been praying, and I have a lot of faith in God, who has always been there for us. We’ve been receiving a lot of prayers from different people and fans, and all of that helps.”

Anthony Joshua and Dominic Breazeale

Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and challenger Dominic Breazeale pose at a London news conference announcing their June 25 fight. Breazeale says he thinks he got in Joshua’s head during the staredown. (Photo courtesy Matchroom Sport)

DOMINIC BREAZEALE: ANTHONY JOSHUA ‘IS WORRIED’

Anthony Joshua has wiped out all 16 opponents he’s faced as a pro, including a sensational second-round knockout of previously undefeated Charles Martin last month that gave the Britain heavyweight his first world title.

Given his knockout prowess, it’s difficult to envision the 6-foot-6 Joshua—who won Olympic gold in the 2012 London Olympics—fearing any man. However, his next opponent—fellow undefeated heavy hitter Dominic Breazeale—is certain he sensed worry in Joshua when the two posed for a staredown at a May 4 news conference in London officially announcing their June 25 fight.

“They asked us to go outside to do some stand-up photos in the yard. As we came out, he stuck out his hand to greet me. I shook his hand, and we were cordial,” says Breazeale (17-0, 15 KOs). “Then we got into a face-to-face staredown, and one of the cameramen said, ‘OK, gentlemen, that’s enough.’

“I kept on looking at him, and I think he got uncomfortable. He gave his belt to one of his colleagues and said to me, ‘Don’t dig yourself into a bigger hole; show me some respect.’ I said, ‘I showed you respect by shaking your hand, but I’m here to tell you that you’re in for a fight. I’m not going to lay down like Charles Martin.’”

On April 9, Joshua (16-0, 16 KOs) dropped Martin (then 23-0 with 21 KOs) with a thunderous right hand in the second round. Martin, who was making the first defense of a heavyweight title he won in January, made it to his feet, only to get flattened again moments later by another big right.

This time, Martin stayed down and was counted out.

Breazeale, 30, insists he’ll put up much more of a fight when he challenges the 26-year-old Joshua at the O2 Arena in London in a Showtime-televised contest. And he says Joshua knows it.

“When I looked into his eyes, I saw that he was worried,” said Breazeale, who overcame a third-round knockdown to secure a fifth-round TKO of Amir Mansour in his most recent bout on January 23. “I think he was expecting a person who would be so thankful and warm that he was giving me the fight, but I pretty much told him he made a mistake. I think that I got into his head, and he was a little flustered.”

Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter

During a New York City news conference to promote their June 25 showdown, champion Keith Thurman had a message for old friend Shawn Porter: “I love you, but I’m going to have to put you to sleep.” (Ed Diller/DiBella Entertainment)

KEITH THURMAN PREDICTS EARLY KO OF SHAWN PORTER

Keith Thurman recalls a sparring session he had with Shawn Porter in summer 2012. Both men were prepping for separate July bouts in which both were victorious, with Thurman earning a sixth-round TKO of Orlando Lora a week before Porter won a unanimous decision over Alfonso Gomez.

However, Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) noticed something about Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) during sparring that gives him added confidence heading into their highly anticipated 147-pound title fight June 25 at Barclays Center (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

“Shawn Porter is a pressure fighter, and I was the boxer,” says Thurman, who will make the fourth defense of his 147-pound crown against Porter. “I was moving around him with no trouble. I was able to land big shots each and every single round.”

Four years have passed since they were last in the ring together, and the stakes obviously will be much higher come June 25. Yet Thurman doesn’t expect things to be all that different when the longtime friends square off, this time sans headgear.

“If Shawn Porter tightens up his defense, then we can have a competitive fight,” Thurman says. “If his defense is the same as it was three years ago, we should have no problem, and it will not go past eight rounds.”

From the podium during last month’s news conference at the Edison Hotel in New York, Thurman looked right into Porter’s eyes and said, “I love you bro, but I’m going to have to do my best to put you to sleep.”

The comment caught Porter off guard.

“I was surprised to hear him say it,” he says. “I really wanted to look into his eyes to find out if he really believes that … [and] I don’t think he believes it.

“I know Keith. He’s a cutthroat fighter. If he has the opportunity, yes, he will try to knock me out. But I’m looking forward to knocking him out.”

Lem’s Corner is published each Wednesday at PremierBoxingChampions.com.

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