Leo Santa Cruz is a pressure fighter. Kiko Martinez is a come-forward kind of guy. You want volume? Saturday night’s fight is going to have it at Van Halen-circa-1984 levels when Santa Cruz attempts to defend his 126-pound world title at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Santa Cruz, returning to the ring for the first time since defeating Abner Mares in August, looks to keep his unbeaten train rolling right along when he faces Martinez, a former 122-pound champion who has hinted that a loss could make this his final fight.
This scrap marks Martinez’s second time fighting in the United States (following a title-clinching win over Jhonatan Romero in 2013) and his first outside of Spain since July, when he lost to Scott Quigg in Manchester, England. Following that defeat, Martinez jumped from the 122-pound ranks to 126 and won three fights in the final three months of 2015, all in his native Spain.
Aggressive scheduling just goes part and parcel with Martinez’s style in the ring.
“He's always a fighter who comes to fight,” Santa Cruz said. “He comes forward with a lot of pressure, throwing a lot of punches. Maybe it could be his last fight. He said if he doesn't win this fight, he's going to retire.”
Taking on a fighter who wants to bring the heat, though, fits Santa Cruz’s style just fine. In the epic 12-round brawl with Mares, both boxers combined to throw more than 2,000 punches. That dustup was nothing but high-velocity leather from the opening bell, and the crowd at Los Angeles' Staples Center ate up every last crumb.
What Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 KOs) proved that night was that volume wasn’t his only advantage. The three-division world champion landed at a 35 percent clip, playing a rapid-fire game of picking his opponent apart.
“My kind of fight is to stay there and bang, trade punches, make it an interesting fight,” Santa Cruz said. “That’s what the fans want. But sometimes we have to be smart and think of ourselves, too. Sometimes to win the fight we have to move and do those kinds of things. We’ll trade punches with him, and if that's not working, we'll box him and do what we have to do.”
Prior to those three victories in Spain to close out 2015, Martinez (35-6, 26 KOs) lost to Quigg and previously dropped a pair of contests to Carl Frampton. Frampton and Quigg are also fighting Saturday, albeit across the pond. It’s a bout that could very well play a big part in Santa Cruz’s future should he beat Martinez.
Santa Cruz will know the winner of Frampton-Quigg before his fight with Martinez starts, and he plans to call out the victor.
First, though, there’s no small matter of a determined onetime champion looking to prove he’s still a force.
“[Martinez] has everything to win and nothing to lose,” Santa Cruz said. “I think he's going to prepare the best he has ever prepared. When it's somebody's last chance, they come with everything.”
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