Leo Santa Cruz cruises to unanimous decision victory

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Featherweight World Champ dissects a game Rafael Rivera over 12 rounds to retain his WBA 126-pound title.

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Santa Cruz vs Rivera - Watch Video Highlights | February 16, 2019

WBA world featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz threw more punches on Saturday night than all but once in his 13-year career, putting on a boxing clinic for his hometown fans as he defeated Mexican Rafael “Big Bang” Rivera via lopsided unanimous decision.

Before a packed house and a PBC on Fox television audience, Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) threw 1,273 punches in 12 rounds, landing 334 of them (26%) in the night’s main event at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. The most punches he’s ever thrown in a fight was 1,350.

All three judges scored it 119-109 for Santa Cruz, each giving Rivera, a late-substitute who took the bout on three weeks’ notice, one of the 12 rounds. Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs) fought hard and had some moments but landed just 151 of 805 punches (19%), finding Santa Cruz a tough target to hit.

Santa Cruz came out targeting Rivera's body and landed some vicious shots, but between the relentless body work and some hard right uppercuts that landed solidly to Rivera's head, the champion was unable to put the challenger away.

“I did what I could,” Santa Cruz said. “I would have liked to do a lot better, but Rafael was a tough opponent. I got him to the body really good, and he didn’t go down, and I got him to the head. He’s a tough fighter.”

Santa Cruz was also fighting for his father and trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, who has been battling cancer for three years. The victory meant everything to the son, who has said his father is on his mind constantly.

“It means the world to me,” said Santa Cruz. “The first thing I said when I stepped into the ring was, I didn’t want to let my dad down. I wanted to win so he could be happy and continue fighting against cancer, and I thank God and the fans for the support they gave me to win this fight.”

Santa Cruz wants to unify the featherweight belts and doesn’t care which one comes first.

 “I want to unify the belts against any of the champions, I don’t care if it’s against Oscar Valdez or Gary Russell Jr., Josh Warrington, even a third fight against Carl Frampton,” he said. “Any of those fights, I want them.”

His next fight will be in June or July. “I want to fight three times this year and hopefully I can,” he said.

Figueroa Jr. wins slugfest over Molina Jr.

It was expected to be a toe-to-toe slugfest between two of boxing’s big punchers, and that’s exactly what the fans got.

What was surprising, though, was the final result: Not that former lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr., who had fought only once since 2015, won to remain undefeated. But that he won a fairly lopsided unanimous decision against a very game John Molina Jr. in a 10-round welterweight bout that seemed much closer than the judges’ scores would indicate.

Judge Edward Hernandez Sr. had the widest margin, giving Molina only one of the 10 rounds (99-91), while Pat Russell had it 98-92 and Rudy Barragan, 97-93, all for Figueroa.

Figueroa, 29, who has been sidelined much of the last couple years by a series of injuries, improved to 28-0-1 (19 KOs). Molina, 36, comes away with a 30-8 record (24 KOs), wondering how he got outscored so badly in his home state of California, in a fight that appeared more evenly matched.

Both fighters came out from the opening bell throwing punches with bad intentions. Molina used his vaunted right hand as his big weapon, while Figueroa showed a granite chin, consistently shaking off Molina’s hardest shots and returning fire of his own.

The fight changed from a junior welterweight to a welterweight bout on Friday when Figueroa weighed in well over the 140-pound limit. Molina was not happy about the change.

“I don’t want to say that the weight change is an excuse, but I didn’t even have 24 hours to adjust,” he said.

That didn’t stop him from firing non-stop for the full 10 rounds. Figueroa was able to withstand the assault and landed hurtful punches of his own to come away the victor.

Putting ‘Fun’ in Fundora: 21-year-old remains undefeated

The “Towering Inferno” was on fire Saturday night.

Sebastian Fundora, the towering 6-foot-7-inch, 21-year-old rising super welterweight, remained undefeated, knocking Donnie Marshall from the ranks of the unbeaten with a third-round TKO victory in a scheduled eight-round bout.

Fundora, from Coachella, Calif., overwhelmed Marshall by pressing the action from the start, putting Marshall on the defensive much of the time.

Using his six-inch height advantage, Fundora kept up his frenetic pace, knocking Marshall down twice before referee Jerry Cantu finally stopped it at 1:08 of the third. By then, Fundora had used his long reach and a powerful left uppercut to put Marshall, nine years his senior, down with the same punch each time.

Fundora said he pressed the action because Marshall, who fell to 10-1 (six KOs) wouldn’t.

“I expected him to go inside, he was really trying to box,” Fundora said. “But once I figured that he didn’t want to bring the fight, we had to bring the fight to him, and it went our way.”

Fundora, whose future looks bright, said he hopes to get ranked in the top five by the end of the year, and “maybe even a title fight. Who knows where we’ll be at the end of the year?”

Asked who he wanted next, Fundora shrugged. “Whoever has the title, I don’t know. This is a packed division,” he said. “Especially with the PBC, we have all the champions.”

Balderas rolls on

Former U.S. Olympian Karlos Balderas remained undefeated with a third-round stoppage of Jose Cen Torres in a scheduled six-round lightweight bout. Balderas improved to 7-0 with six KOs while Cen Torres dropped to 13-11. Balderas made it to the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero.

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

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