The four-division world champion plans to use every tool in his arsenal when he faces undefeated three-time champ Gervonta "Tank" Davis in a world title showdown Saturday night on SHOWTIME PPV.
Before the bus could jerk forward and belch out a plume of black exhaust fume, Leo Santa Cruz and his family were aboard. Huffing and puffing from their frantic run to get on, they would step their way down the narrow aisle through extended legs and various bags, lugging their boxing gear to find a spot near the back to stretch out.
They usually could feel the wayward looks as they walked by the passengers. To make the daily bus trip home from the gym, Leo, his brother and father often had to rush to make it. Consequently, they had no time to shower before they left.
One time, a passenger got up and moved quickly from where the Santa Cruz family was sitting, though not before making a comment. Jose Santa Cruz, Leo’s father and trainer, didn’t exactly comprehend what the guy said. So, Jose just smiled and nodded his head as the passenger left.
“My dad turned to my brother and asked, ‘What did that guy say?’” Leo recalled, laughing. “My brother told my dad, ‘The guy said get out of here, you stink!’ I’ll never forget my dad saying, ‘Why didn’t you guys tell me, so I could have told him off!’”
Leo has not had to catch a bus in a long time. He owns a fleet of luxury cars, including one of Floyd Mayweather’s Lamborghinis. He doesn’t receive odd glares anymore, either. He’s not running to catch buses. He’s running toward boxing greatness, starting with running to Gervonta “Tank” Davis.
On Halloween night, Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) will face his biggest test as a pro when he takes on the undefeated Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) for a unique unification of Santa Cruz’s WBA junior lightweight belt and Davis’ WBA lightweight title in front of fans at the Alamodome, in San Antonio, Texas.
The Showtime pay-per-view event (9PM ET ET/ 6PM PT) will co-feature unbeaten San Antonio native and WBA junior welterweight titlist Mario “El Azteca” Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) defending his belt against hard-hitting Ryan “Cowboy” Karl (18-2, 12 KOs).
But Santa Cruz will share center stage. He knows he wouldn’t be in this position if not for the runs to the bus, or the times his early winnings had to pay bills or the rent, instead of buying a car. He never nailed his poverty to the walls of his heart. Rather, he let the poverty become a part of him, let it run through his bloodstream and seep deep into his psyche.
You don’t get rid of the ghostly stares that quickly, the head-to-toe kind that judged him each time he boarded a bus. He’s 32 and they’re still there. Or the times everyone stopped talking when he was in line at the market and pulled out food stamps. Those memories are hard to scrub away.
Boxing solved his monstrous rage over being poor. Boxing gave him a platform and a voice. Boxing made him matter. It helped pay for his father’s rising medical costs to deal with Stage 3 myeloma—a bone cancer at the spine that required chemotherapy and surgery.
“ I’m going to do what I have to do to win.” ” Four-Division World Champion - Leo Santa Cruz
Now, Santa Cruz figures, it’s time he owes boxing back.
“It’s why I wanted this fight, I’m the one who asked for it,” Santa Cruz explained. “I told them to give me Tank Davis. I wanted the best fight, and it bothered me that people said I was scared to fight big names. I never avoided anyone. Tank Davis shows I’m not scared.
“He’s the best and I’m fighting the best. I still hear that I’m scared and worried about this guy. I want to go out there and give Tank his first loss. I want to do it and put on a good show doing it. I want to go out there and prove those people wrong.”
It’s been something he’s done his whole life.
When you don’t come from much, not much is expected.
Leo spit in the eye of that trite mantra.
He also knows he’ll need to be perfect.
One mistake could force Leo to be looking up from the canvas.
“I’ll need to be really smart and not get carried away with fighting his fight, but fighting my fight,” said Santa Cruz, who wins with volume punching and keeping opponents at comfortable distances with his 5-foot-7½ height and 69-inch reach. “I can’t brawl with him. I know he can hit. If he catches me, I know he can hurt me. I need to stay on the outside and pressure him.
“I was there ringside when Tank fought (Francisco) Fonseca. I saw what Fonseca was able to do with him. He was able to come inside. I know Tank knocked him out, but Fonseca did give him some trouble. Tank is dangerous in every round, but I will be more confident after the sixth or seventh round.
“His power is not the same after six or seven rounds. He won’t be easy to beat, but he’ll be a lot easier to beat after six or seven rounds. I may have to win ugly. I may have to tie him up every time he gets close. I’m going to try everything to win the fight, and I don’t care if anyone says I’m fighting dirty or not. I’m going to do what I have to do to win.”
Santa Cruz says his conditioning is sound, and he feels his body attack and his jab are sharp.
One thing Santa Cruz vowed he won’t do is run.
“I’ve done that my whole life,” Santa Cruz said. “I would have to run to the bus everywhere, even when I turned pro. We were struggling, we even had to borrow money to pay the rent. It’s why we couldn’t afford a car until I was in my late teens.
“I’m still the same person as I was growing up. I have money. I have a house and cars. Being poor never left me. I remember getting on the bus when someone told us we stunk. I never mentioned that story before. I was embarrassed about it then.
“I can laugh about it now.”
For a closer look at Leo Santa Cruz, check out his fighter page.