Inside the Mind of Leo Santa Cruz

The Featherweight World Champion talks life outside the ring as he prepares to defend his WBA 126-pound title versus Rafael Rivera this Saturday night on PBC on FOX in Los Angeles.

“Inside the Mind of…” is a new column that delves deep into the mind and personality of PBC’s finest. Featuring the fighter’s answers to fun and thought-provoking questions, including those on the famous Proust Questionnaire, this column seeks to show the fans a lesser-seen side of the subject.

Boxers and other athletes who cut weight don’t often get to indulge in their favorite foods. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love to chow down as much as the rest of us.

Leo “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz currently belongs in both categories. This Saturday, February 16, Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) takes on Rafael Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) in Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater on PBC on FOX (8 p.m./5 p.m.).

But when Santa Cruz isn’t training, the WBA world featherweight champion admits to liking everything from local taco spots to Benihana.

“If I could pick, I would eat at my favorite restaurant in LA: Boda Restaurant. It’s Chinese food. I eat there once a week.

“But before a fight you have to get carbs, so my dad and my team tell me to go eat pasta and stuff like that to recover.”

When Leo is training, of course, his favorite foods become something of a luxury, a dream on lean days. But when asked what he would identify as his biggest extravagance of all, Santa Cruz answered instantly.

“[Floyd] Mayweather’s car,” Leo said. “My dream car was always a Lamborghini. I always said if I ever make it, if I ever have some money, that’s what I want to buy.”

A few years ago, when Santa Cruz was ready for the big purchase, he heard “Money May” had a Lamborghini on the market. Leo bought the impressive car directly from Floyd, who also happens to be one of the fighters he grew up admiring.

The other boxers Santa Cruz looked up to are also legends. “My dad [Leo’s head trainer, Jose] wanted me to fight like Julio Cesar Chavez. I grew up watching him, Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas. I think all those fighters are great.”

Many boxing fans view their favorite fighters as much more than great athletes. They’re heroes to those who understand and appreciate what they represent. So, who are the heroes to an elite fighter like Leo?

“My manager, Al Haymon. He’s my hero. He teaches me a lot and he’s been so great to me. He’s somebody I really look up to.”

“As far as movie stars and celebrities, Jean-Claude Van Damme. I grew up watching his movies and I always wished I was like him.”

Related to that, and perhaps not surprisingly, Leo’s favorite fictional character is Van Damme’s character, Kurt Sloane, from Kickboxer, one of the actor’s most famous films.

Maybe Home Alone. It’s really funny. I could watch that movie over and over again. Four-time World Champion — Leo Santa Cruz

If Santa Cruz had to choose a single favorite movie, though, it’s not what one might expect.

“Maybe Home Alone. It’s really funny. I could watch that movie over and over again.”

Leo, now 30 years old and 13 years into his professional boxing career, still gets butterflies before a fight.

Prior to a bout, “I’m nervous. I’m excited,” Leo said. “I want to go out there and get it over with, finish the fight, get the win, and go home with my family.

“Most importantly, I want to give a good fight. I want to go out there and entertain the fans. I want them to go home happy and say, ‘Leo gave a great fight. We love how he fought. We want to watch him again.’ That’s what I care most about. That’s why I’m thinking about that [before a fight]—hopefully I don’t give a boring fight.”

Which of Leo’s 37 (not boring) professional fights does he consider his best?

“The [Abner] Mares and [Carl] Frampton fights. People say those were great fights, that they were wars, that we were going back and forth.”

Since Santa Cruz is one of the most skillful and action-oriented fighters in the game today, it’s tough to imagine what talent he would most like to have that he doesn’t already possess.

“Some fighters knock somebody out with one punch,” Leo said. “I would like to have the power to do that.”

As far as his greatest achievements, Santa Cruz says, “Becoming a three-division world champion. My dream was always to become a world champion, and I thought doing it one time was going to be hard. I never thought I would get to this point.

“Outside the ring, it’s being a great dad. When I was growing up, I had to worry about helping pay the rent, I had to work to support [my family], to put food on the table. I try to provide my kids with everything I didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with.”

For Leo, all roads lead to family.

“My greatest fear is to lose somebody,” Santa Cruz said. “Any of my kids, my girlfriend, my mom, my dad, any of my brothers—any relative or a close friend.”

Imagine the concept of dying and coming back as any person or a thing of your choosing. Most of us, if given the chance, would happily select someone or something completely alien to our own experience.

Leo Santa Cruz wouldn’t want to be anybody but himself.

“I would come back as myself, with the same family. My life is great. I’m happy.”

For a closer look at Leo Santa Cruz, check out his fighter page.

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