Leo Santa Cruz has heard the criticisms, and now he's tired of them. The unbeaten WBC super bantamweight titleholder will return to the ring this weekend against lukewarm challenger Jesus Ruiz -- whom he calls a "great fighter" speaking with RingTV.com -- and also says that he's not afraid of Guillermo Rigondeaux, and that he's ready to fight him as soon as he can.
"If it was up to me, I would fight (Rigondeaux) whenever," Santa Cruz told RingTV.com. "I am tired of people telling me that I am scared. I am looking for that fight as soon as possible. He is not invincible. I think I have a chance to beat him. I know he is a tough fighter, but that's what we are here for, to fight the best."
Santa Cruz (28-0-1, 16 KO) can really only blame himself if there are fans who believe he's scared of the Cuban, who is the near-undisputed ruler of the division, holding the WBA and WBO titles, as well as the lineal championship. It was, after all, just a couple of weeks ago that he poo-poo'd a fight with Rigondeaux, saying that nobody wanted to see it.
"Guillermo Rigondeaux, the people don't like his style, and I don't think that'd be an interesting fight. I wanna give a great show and a great fight for the fans," he told our colleagues at Fight Hub TV. It wasn't the first time that Santa Cruz seemed to distance himself from talk of Rigondeaux as a potential opponent, either.
But to be entirely fair to Santa Cruz, he has always said point blank that it's not about fear of fighting Rigondeaux, it's simply that he doesn't likely bring in good money, and Santa Cruz is a true prizefighter of the modern age. He named a child after Al Haymon, and he's been incredibly grateful when discussing Haymon in interviews. This is one of the overlooked things that we often don't mention: Al Haymon's fighters love him, because Al Haymon maximizes their profits.
"Rigondeaux (annoys me most), because of all the talk and everything, and saying I'm scared to fight him," he told Fight Hub last September. "But nobody likes watching him on TV, so it's not gonna be a great money fight. I want to look for the good money fights, and the exciting fights that the fans will love."
The current tentative plan is for Santa Cruz to get past Ruiz (33-5-5, 22 KO), and then target a May fight with Abner Mares, which will potentially mean more money than a Rigondeaux fight, and with all due respect to Rigondeaux as the top fighter in the division, almost certainly means a much better action fight. For the fans, indeed.
The real backlash against Santa Cruz is understandable, and probably less about any supposed fear of Rigo than it is about the lackluster competition he's faced. Santa Cruz says that Ruiz, ranked 31st in the world by BoxRec, is a great fighter, but he said the same about the woefully overmatched Manuel Roman, a former sparring partner he destroyed in September, his last time in the ring. Everyone likes to watch Santa Cruz, but it feels past time for him to face a serious challenge, and it has yet to come to pass.
If Mares is next, then the jeers will probably chill out, because that's a great matchup that boxing fans should want to see. If Rigondeaux comes later this year, if Santa Cruz beats Mares, then he'll be all the better prepared. And to be fair to his management, I don't think many feel he's really been prepared to fight someone like Rigondeaux.