Leo Santa Cruz
Record: 33-1-1 (18 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'7½" / 69" ... Age: 29
Thoughts: Leo Santa Cruz has long been passive about his opposition and what fans or media think of it, so it should be no surprise that he follows back-to-back bouts with Carl Frampton with a trash can title defense against someone who could at this point in his career be only generously described as a fringe contender.
Think back to Santa Cruz as a bantamweight champion in 2012. He beat Vusi Malinga to win a vacant belt, then defended against a washed Eric Morel, Victor Zaleta, and Alberto Guevara.
In 2013, he moved up to super bantamweight, won the WBC belt from Victor Terrazas, then defended against Cesar Seda, an aging and undersized Cristian Mijares, Manuel Roman, and Jesus Ruiz, before a featherweight water-tester against Jose Cayetano in 2015.
Featherweight has been a slightly different story, at least to this point. He beat Abner Mares for the WBA title in the summer of 2015, but his first defense against Kiko Martinez was really more of the same old Santa Cruz record (and bank account) padding. But then he fought Carl Frampton, lost, fought him again, and won.
Negotiations for a rematch with Mares fell through, with the two sides ultimately deciding to do exactly what boxing fans hoped they wouldn’t: take tune-up fights and marinate their rematch until 2018, if it happens at all. (It probably will.)
So we’ve got Santa Cruz against Chris Avalos on Saturday. No one asked for this, and nobody really wants it. This is no different than Santa Cruz against Morel or Zaleta or Guevara or Seda or Mijares or Roman or Ruiz or Cayetano or Martinez. It’s one of those, not one of the others.
Record: 27-5 (20 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 2-3 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'7" / 68" ... Age: 27
Thoughts: Chris Avalos is still young, but it’s been years since he’s been thought of as a real potential world title level fighter. There was some hype around the “Hitman” as a prospect back in the day, but a lot of that came crashing down way back in 2010, when he was upset by Christopher Martin on ShoBox, and nothing that’s happened in the last seven years has really upped his stock.
Avalos was a bantamweight when he lost to Martin. He moved up after, and things were going OK until he lost to Jhonatan Romero in 2011. But he did bounce back from that with a victory over then-unbeaten Yenifel Vicente, and he beat Drian Francisco in 2013, and he won an IBF eliminator in 2014 over Yasutaka Ishimoto.
All of that led to a 2015 IBF super bantamweight title fight with Carl Frampton. Avalos gave a legitimate effort, but Frampton trounced him, as expected. Again, he moved up in weight, this time to featherweight.
In 2015, he was fed to emerging contender Oscar Valdez, who stopped Avalos in five. He followed that with another loss, this one to Mark Magsayo, in what was a very fun, largely overlooked fight.
In his last outing on July 18, Avalos defeated Miguel Flores in Louisiana on an FS1 card, that one something of an upset in itself, for once going Avalos’ way, albeit with some controversy over the stoppage.
Avalos is a fun fighter to watch. It’s been repeatedly proven that he’s not a world class talent, but he is a fun fighter to watch. The problem he’s going to have with this fight is obvious: Leo Santa Cruz is arguably the best featherweight in the sport today, and a level or two above Avalos.
Matchup Grade: D. This fight is not good, but I’m not giving it an F, because Avalos is a fighter who doesn’t shy away from contact, and he’ll come at Santa Cruz and give it his best shot. There’s at least that. The styles should make it enjoyable to watch, however big a mismatch it winds up being, for however long it lasts.