By David Greisman
Leo Santa Cruz Defeats Rivera; Is Russell or Frampton Next?
There was no suspense but plenty of action, and that sufficed on Saturday night as Leo Santa Cruz won a unanimous decision in a battle against the game but outgunned Rafael Rivera.
Rivera was a replacement opponent, and a suitable one given the purpose of the fight. Santa Cruz was originally supposed to face Miguel Flores, a 23-2 featherweight who’d lost to a pair of enjoyable also-rans in Dat Nguyen and Chris Avalos. Rivera had also suffered a pair of defeats; his had come against two good names at 126 in contender Joseph Diaz Jr. and unbeaten prospect Joet Gonzalez.
It was clear that the point was to have the bigger name, Santa Cruz, be in with someone who could put on a good show in defeat for the main event broadcast on national television on FOX. That would then serve to draw interest for a fight between Santa Cruz and another top-tier featherweight.
Rivera did his part. He came to win, trying to seize momentum in the first round. Santa Cruz worked to discourage him, going to the body again and again with left hooks in the second round, and sending out one particularly hard uppercut when Rivera was on the inside.
Santa Cruz is a multidimensional fighter. He’s known for his volume of punches, but he also demonstrated some good boxing skills while regaining his title from Carl Frampton in their 2017 rematch.
Santa Cruz was confident that he could get away with battling it out with Rivera, picking off a lot of what Rivera threw, absorbing the rest, and otherwise piling on the points by throwing an amazing 1,273 punches on the night, about 106 per round, according to CompuBox. Most of those missed, but the 28 per round that did land were more than enough. The pace and the bodywork lessened Rivera’s output. He still dug in and fired away in exchanges, but Rivera ultimately realized that he was facing someone better and was content to go the distance against him.
The final scores were 119-109 across the board, all three judges giving Santa Cruz 11 rounds and Rivera one.
“I’m very happy with my performance, and I thought I gave everyone a great fight,” Rivera, now 26-3-2 with 17 knockouts, said afterward. “I was in there with one of the best fighters in the world and throwing punches and exchanging with him. More than anything, I’m very proud to have fought 12 rounds with a great world champion like Leo Santa Cruz.”
Santa Cruz moves to 36-1-1 with 19 KOs. He spoke afterward of wanting a unification bout with the other titleholders at 126 or having a rubber match with Frampton.
The other titleholders are Oscar Valdez (who is with a rival promoter), Josh Warrington, and Gary Russell Jr. Like Santa Cruz, Russell is with Premier Boxing Champions. That seems the most likely match to make, then, except that kind of thing has been said about the PBC titleholders at 126 for some time. Russell is particularly inactive, appearing just once a year for the past four years, which is even more maddening given how talented he is.
Warrington is coming off a good 2018 in which he dethroned Lee Selby and then defeated Carl Frampton. A unification bout with Santa Cruz would be incredibly entertaining.
Santa Cruz tends to be fun to watch no matter who he faces. But it’s even more enjoyable to see him do what he does against the best in his division. Now that this bout is out of the way, it’s time for the best to be next.
Rob Brant TKOs Baysangurov, Sets Himself Up for Bigger Things
Four months ago, middleweight Rob Brant upset the apple cart by upsetting gold medalist Ryota Murata, ruining a proposed clash between Murata and Gennady Golovkin.
Last Friday, Brant came into the ring knowing that a victory over unbeaten prospect Khasan Baysangurov was all that stood between him and bigger things. And so he made sure not have those bigger things spoiled the way that Murata’s were.
Brant worked just as hard as he did last October, once again dishing out an impressive volume of punches, mixing in some movement, dropping Baysangurov twice and scoring an 11th-round technical knockout.
Fighting in front of his home crowd in Minnesota, Brant started off unsurprisingly with a combination of activity and pressure. Baysangurov was able to block or avoid some, but not all, and that focus on defense meant he also wasn’t able to do as much on offense. Indeed, Brant went 31 of 93 in the opening three minutes while Baysangurov was a mere 5 of 36, according to CompuBox.
About a minute into the second round, Brant jabbed twice and when Baysangurov ducked, Brant popped him with a right hand for the knockdown. Baysangurov continued to look for counter opportunities and other openings, and so Brant began boxing more to throw Baysangurov off. Brant continued to dictate the action despite the movement. Baysangurov occasionally landed, though he also spent a lot of time following rather than cutting off the ring, and not throwing enough to help create openings.
Brant set up the second knockdown with a right hand to the ear in the 11th round, upsetting Baysangurov’s equilibrium. Brant followed up until Baysangurov went down. There wasn’t enough time to recover. Brant soon had Baysangurov staggering back from two right hands. The referee jumped in to protect Baysangurov from further punishment.
Brant is now 25-1 with 17 KOs. The lone loss came when he moved from 160 to 168 to fight in the World Boxing Super Series tournament, losing a decision to Juergen Braehmer.
Brant is awaiting a shot at the winner of May’s clash between middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs. Brant reportedly also has another opportunity, while less meaningful and less lucrative, that could help keep him active and earn him some money — a trip to Australia to face former 147-pound titleholder Jeff Horn.
Baysangurov suffered his first loss and is now 17-1 with 7 KOs.
Mikaela Mayer Defeats Larios, Continues Path Toward Title Shot
Yareli Larios put up as much of a fight as she could, and what she was capable of was pretty good. That was exactly what Mikaela Mayer needed.
Mayer — a 2016 Olympian who turned pro a year and a half ago — is being groomed for future success. Her promoter, Top Rank, is renowned for taking promising prospects and guiding their development into well-rounded contenders and titleholders.
It takes opponents like Larios to make good prospects like Mayer even better. Mayer withstood Larios early, adjusted, took over and won a clear unanimous decision.
Larios was shorter and less physically gifted than Mayer. But the 20-year-old has been fighting as a pro since she was 16, and she also has a notable pedigree as the daughter of retired two-division titleholder Oscar Larios.
Larios showed good timing as she landed flush left hook counters in-between Mayer’s punches. Mayer was able to absorb those shots, though it was not the best way for her fight to begin. It wasn’t cause for emergency either.
“It’s not the amateurs anymore. I don’t have to rush into the fight and try to score and score and score,” Mayer said afterward. “I was more relaxed with my time and seeing what the openings were. It took me a round or two. We knew she was going to be tough. We knew she was going to come out fighting. We wanted to keep our hands high and come right down the middle. She had looping shots, which were effective, but we knew we had a longer reach.”
Mayer employed her height and reach advantages, using her jab to dictate distance and to set up one-two combinations. Larios remained game but couldn’t keep up; Mayer began to take over.
The scorecards reflected that: One judge had it a shutout at 80-72, or eight rounds to zero, while the other judges it 79-73 (seven rounds to one) and 78-74 (six rounds to two).
Mayer moves to 10-0 with 4 KOs. She hasn’t been a pro for long, but she feels it’s about time to challenge for a world title at junior lightweight.
“It’s been a great year and a half. A lot of learning experiences,” she said. “I think I’m coming into my own as an athlete. My pro style is coming along nicely. I definitely want those belts.”
Larios is now 13-2-1 with 3 KOs.