By Lem Satterfield

Leo Santa Cruz fully understands his circumstance and the significance of the first defense of his WBA featherweight title against Kiko Martinez at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Cal., on Feb. 27. He is not fighting in a featherweight championship vacuum.

Santa Cruz-Martinez will headline a Showtime “Championship Boxing’’ telecast that will include a 122-pound unification fight in England between the WBA’s Scott Quigg (31-0-2, 23 KOs) of England and the IBF’s Carl Frampton (21-0, 14 KOs) of Northern Ireland.

 “I think this will be their last fight at 122, and hopefully, we win our fight, and then, we want the winner between Quigg and Frampton,’’ Santa Cruz says. “I think it would be good for TV if the winners of both fights should see each other. I welcome the winner of that fight.”

Santa Cruz is defending his title against a man who is very familiar with Quigg and Frampton. Fighting at 122 pounds, Martinez lost to Quigg by knockout and to Frampton by both stoppage and unanimous decision.

Martinez was twice floored during a second-round knockout loss to Quigg last July. Since then, however, Martinez has won three straight during a six-week span at the end of last year. Martinez cited extreme weight loss for his setback against Quigg.

Santa Cruz isn’t looking at Martinez’s performances against Quigg and Frampton as a gauge of what will happen in their match. Martinez, who was born in Granada, Spain, is a rugged opponent. Plus he has experience in his corner. Martinez works with Gaby Sarmiento, who trained former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez (no relation to Kiko). Martinez is 4-0 while training with Sarmiento.

Santa Cruz, who stands 5-foot-8 compared to Martinez’s 5-5, has a reach advantage (69 inches to Martinez’s 66 inches) and he plans to press that.

“Kiko is a big puncher who is always coming forward and trying to land those big hooks, but I’m taller, I have a lot of reach and I’ll be able to use my distance,’’ Santa Cruz says.

“I can take some steps back and catch him with big shots, or if he wants to brawl, I can stand right there and make it an entertaining fight. But if that’s not working, we’re going to box him. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win the fight.’’

Santa Cruz has become the most popular boxer in Southern California. Santa Cruz is headlining a card for the second straight time in the Los Angeles area where he was raised. The Honda Center in Anaheim is less than a 30-minutes drive from Los Angeles. Santa Cruz, 27, won the vacant featherweight world championship with a 12-round unanimous decision over Abner Mares in a rousing match at the Staples Center in Los Angles. Many fans and pundits thought the match should have been 2015 Fight of the Year.

 “I proved I’m on the same level as Mares,” says Santa Cruz. “I showed I could compete against him, and, eventually, I beat him.”

Santa Cruz is open to a rematch with Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs), who meets four-division champion Fernando Montiel (54-5-2, 39 KOs) in a non-title featherweight clash at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, airing live on CBS (8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT) on March 12.

The Mares-Montiel undercard could match southpaw Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KOs) of Washington, D.C., in a defense of his WBC the belt against Ireland’s Patrick Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs).

Another possibility is the IBF’s Lee Selby (22-1, 8 KOs), who won a unanimous decision over Montiel in October. Selby could face mandatory challenger Eric Hunter (21-3, 11 KOs) of Philadelphia in March.

“I’ve already fought Gary Russell, and he beat me in a close fight in the amateurs when we were 17. He’s got the WBC, and I want that belt. Selby’s got the IBF, so that’s another good fight,” says Santa Cruz.

“There was talk of a unification fight between me and Selby, and he’s undefeated. As for Mares, I want the rematch, which I think could be maybe one or two wins away for both of us, but it can happen.”



Lem Satterfield is a writer for Premier Boxing Champions. Re-use of any or all of this material must contain proper attribution that reflects that.