World champion Santa Cruz seeking total domination of deep 126-pound division

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Make no mistake: Leo Santa Cruz’s sole focus right now is on defending his 126-pound world title against Carl Frampton. However, the all-action brawler would be lying if he said he wasn’t eyeing the future just a little bit.

Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares

Leo Santa Cruz connects with a left hook to the face of Abner Mares last August. Santa Cruz earned a majority decision to win a 126-pound title and become a three-division world champ. (Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions)

In short, Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) is looking to cement his status as the top boxer in one of the sport’s deepest weight classes. And he'll attempt to make another case for himself July 30 against Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton (21-1, 14 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

“Hopefully, we can get the win over Frampton, and then we can start to unify the weight class,” says the Mexican-born Santa Cruz, a longtime Los Angeles resident who will be making his first East Coast appearance. “Then, after I clean out the division, I can move up to 130 and start to look for other title belts.

“If I continue to keep learning and improving as a fighter, I could go all the way up to 140 pounds.”

Santa Cruz is coming off a fifth-round stoppage of former 122-pound champion Kiko Martinez on February 27, scoring a first-round knockdown en route to an easy victory. That was in sharp contrast to his epic August 29 slugfest with fellow L.A.-based Mexican-American Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs), an all-out war that Santa Cruz won by majority decision.

That victory earned Santa Cruz a vacant title, making him a three-division world champion. He held a 118-pound crown from June 2012 to December 2012 (four successful defenses) and was a 122-pound titleholder from May 2013 to January 2015 (five successful defenses).

However, Santa Cruz was just one of several champions at 118 and 122 pounds. Now he desires to rule the roost at 126—an incredibly lofty goal given the talent in the division.

In addition to top-notch contenders such as Frampton and Mares, there are fellow world champions Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) of Capitol Heights, Maryland; Argentina’s Jesus Cuellar (28-1); and Welshman Lee Selby (23-1, 8 KOs).

My dream is to be the next big thing in boxing. Leo Santa Cruz

Of that group, Mares was the first to get a crack at Santa Cruz. Now the baton has been passed to Frampton, a former 122-pound champion who vacated his crown shortly after defeating U.K. rival Scott Quigg by split decision in a title unifiication bout on the same day Santa Cruz got past Martinez.

While Frampton is the proverbial next man up for Santa Cruz, others are anxiously waiting their opportunity to trade blows with the high-volume, 27-year-old boxer-puncher.

For instance, Selby has said he would “like a fight either in Britain or the U.S.” against Santa Cruz, who has also been targeted by Russell. Then there’s Mares, whose title fight with Cuellar has been postponed twice but who desires a rematch with his fellow Southern Californian.

Santa Cruz’s reaction? Line ’em up, and let’s get it on. In fact, he has a mental plan in place to do just that.

“We want to get this win against Carl Frampton, and then I would want to unify against Lee Selby, and then get the winner of Mares-Cuellar,” Santa Cruz says. “Then, Gary Russell would be the last.

“I’m the guy who everybody wants to fight and everybody wants to beat. That makes me want to train harder and try to beat all of these guys and continue seeking the best opponents and to show that I’m the best in the division.”

And assuming he’s able to do just that? Well, onward and upward.

“When I first started boxing, all I ever thought about was being a world champion one time,” Santa Cruz says. "Then after I got there I started pushing my goals.

“My dream is to be the next big thing in boxing. We’re going to work hard every day in the gym, learn from our mistakes and improve so that we can be the best fighter out there.”

For a complete look at Santa Cruz vs Frampton, head over to our fight page.

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