Leo Santa Cruz wants 126-pound unification bout after win over Abner Mares

WBA featherweight champion says WBC champ Gary Russell Jr., WBO titleholder Oscar Valdez, IBF champion Josh Warrington are all compelling matchups—as is a trilogy fight with former champion Carl Frampton, the only man to defeat Santa Cruz.

Featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz won the battle of Los Angeles—again—when he scored a hard-fought decision over Abner Mares at Staples Center on Saturday night.

The victory further cemented him as one of the best boxers at 126 pounds and opened up a slew of possible matchups in one of the most talent laden divisions in boxing.

“I am ready to unify with any of the other champions,” said the 29-year-old Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs). “There’s Josh Warrington, Gary Russell, Oscar Valdez and even a third fight with Carl Frampton.”

Santa Cruz-Mares was declared an eliminator for the WBC crown held by Russell Jr., a 30-year-old southpaw who made his third title defense last month with a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Joseph Diaz Jr..

“I fought Gary as an amateur. We both went to the finals. He beat me, but it was a good fight. I’m a lot better now and I believe I can beat him. I know the tactics I'd use. Hopefully I can get my rematch and I can say that I beat him. Gary Russell’s really fast, but timing beats speed,” said Santa Cruz.

“I spar with fighters who are really fast, and I would do good against him because I know how to pressure. You saw when Joseph Diaz pressured and worked the body, Gary Russell slowed down and wasn’t throwing with as much power and his speed wasn’t there anymore. But when Joseph stopped, that’s when Gary Russell came on. So with pressure and working the body, I think I could adjust and beat Gary Russell.”

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 over Nonito Donaire in April.

“I want to make that third fight with Carl Frampton,” said Santa Cruz. “He beat Nonito Donaire, so we can make the third fight if the people want it.”

The Mexican-born Valdez (24-0, 19 KOs) is another potential candidate, given Quigg, of England, lost a 122-pound split-decision in a unification bout to Frampton in February 2016 prior to Frampton’s win over Santa Cruz that July.

“Oscar Valdez is a Mexican who comes forward and throws a lot of punches,” said Santa Cruz. “I think that would be an entertaining fight. I would have to be careful because he does throw big punches, but I have a response for everything, so I want that fight, too.”

Santa Cruz also mentioned Warrington (27-0, 6 KOs), who last month dethroned Lee Selby as IBF champion following a split-decision.

For a closer look at Santa Cruz vs Mares II, check out our fight page.

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