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Time for Leo Santa Cruz to roll the dice

After a comfortable run-out against Rafael Rivera, the Mexican needs to make moves in 2019.

Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

In an entertaining fight on Saturday night, Leo Santa Cruz extended his record to 36-1-1 after a convincing points win over the overmatched Mexican Rafael Rivera.

As expected when Santa Cruz enters the ring, the fight was an all-action affair with flurries of punches dominating large parts of the rounds without ever looking like a stoppage was in sight. The WBA featherweight champion won three unanimous scorecards of 119-109, with 1,273 punches being thrown in the fight by El Terremoto; a trade-off in the final couple of seconds of the fight was a testament to the heart shown by the challenger.

At 30 years of age, it’s time for Santa Cruz to look for the big fights in what remains of his long career. He fought just once in 2018 in a shut-out of the dangerous Abner Mares, rematching after LSC edged the scorecards in their first fight back in 2015. Rivera turned out to be a good “keep busy” fight for the champion at the start of 2019, however, unification attempts need to be his top priority.

An obvious choice would be Gary Russel Jnr. The WBC champion hasn’t fought since early last summer when he toppled Joseph Diaz in a unanimous points victory in Maryland, but would surely be open to fighting the Mexican after viewing this weekend’s win over Rivera. Santa Cruz is clearly struggling for power at feather, and despite being able to throw four-figures worth of punches in a fight, all three of the other champions will fancy engaging in a war with the Mexican.

Frampton set the blueprint on how to get the win over Santa Cruz. This, however, isn’t ground that most fans want to see us going over again. Frampton is clearly a faded force and with talks of retirement for The Jackal, a trilogy should be way down the pecking order for the WBA champion.

Josh Warrington poses an interesting question. Assuming he deals with his IBF mandatory Kid Galahad this summer, the Leeds Warrior would be well suited to a trip to Las Vegas. Frampton claimed that Warrington possessed some of the heaviest hands he has faced as a professional; with two upsets against Selby and Frampton already, you’d be foolish to write off Warrington against this version of LSC.

Oscar Valdez is the last of the three champions, holding the WBO strap. Talk of the Mexican fighting Warrington this summer was scuppered by the IBF’s mandatory ruling. Frank Warren and Josh Warrington were considering dropping their IBF belt, however, Valdez would only fight the Briton if it was a unification. Where the WBO champion looks to next is anyone’s guess, but having recently defended his title at the beginning of February it’s unlikely he will make big movements soon.

Now, Gervonta Tank Davis seems to be a name being banded around a potential fight with Santa Cruz having both fought within the space of a week. There is zero chance you’ll get Tank coming down to featherweight, so if this fight is to materialise it has to be at 130-pounds (assuming Davis can still make that...).

Santa Cruz has recorded just two KO wins in his last seven and is sure to find his power is even less effective at super-featherweight. Despite this serious disadvantage, it’s still highly unlikely Mayweather will allow his protege to get in the ring with LSC at 130-pounds. Tank’s career is being massaged gently, with no rush to land the 24-year-old in deep waters.

What we don’t want to see is another comfortable defence for Santa Cruz in seven to eight months time. His “fan-friendly” style of all-action fighting only holds weight if there is a chance of a knockout at the end of each flurry; if he’s going to continue to go the distance with overmatched challengers then as fans we’d be far more inclined to see Santa Cruz roll the dice.

”I want to fight the best,” said Santa Cruz after Saturday’s win. “I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or have a third fight with Carl Frampton. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division.”

It’s a good start. Santa Cruz is saying what we are all thinking, but boxing politics have a funny way of standing in the way of the obvious solutions. If it isn’t a champion next for Leo, then it’ll be hard to stay tuned in.

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