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Azad Championship Report: Santa Cruz at the Staples Center

(Photo © Gene Blevins - Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions)
(Photo © Gene Blevins - Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions)

IBF bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz has vivid recollections of his fifth professional outing. As the literary giant, Snoopy, would describe it, “it was a dark and stormy night” on the evening of January 4th, 2008 at the Alameda Swap Meet in Los Angeles. On a card televised by Telefutura on its “Solo Boxeo” series, Santa Cruz was part of the undercard. This show was held outside in the parking lot area and it was one of the coldest, rainiest and wettest nights in recent memory. If the makeshift tent (seemingly on the verge of collapsing under the weight of precipitation as the night wore on) was not constructed, it was hard to imagine this card going forward.
Santa Cruz stopped Jose Pacheco in two rounds. But that’s not what he remembers about this event. “We were right outside; it was raining. They had to carry me outside so I wouldn’t get my shoes wet,” he said with a chuckle while recalling the evening.

Like a wounded soldier on the battlefield, he was hoisted into the arms of his handlers as he entered the ring. Hey, boxing is hard enough with feeling as though you got banana peels underneath you the whole time. But that’s life as a young, fledgling prizefighter as he works his way up the ranks. You fight in venues like the Alameda Swap Meet, where your dressing rooms are tents and heat lamps are set up to keep you warm.
No such issues will exist on Saturday night when Santa Cruz defends his belt for the second time as he faces Victor Zaleta at the Staples Center (Showtime 10 p.m., ET). This venue is perhaps the signature sports venue in Los Angeles (with all due respect to the aged Dodger Stadium) and has become a regular destination for world-class boxing, first held in this building in June of 2000, shortly after it opened its doors. The first prizefight here saw Shane Mosley upset Oscar De la Hoya in front of a sold-out crowd. Santa Cruz was just 12 years old when this took place.
He recalls, “I watched it. I thought Oscar had won the fight but the judges gave it to Mosley.” (Of course, Oscar is Santa Cruz’s promoter nowadays). And now he’s one of the headliners in a building that’s best known for being the home of the Lakers. Yeah, he’s made the big leagues now.
“That was my dream, that if I could ever become a champion or at least a little bit good that I would fight at the Staples Center and thank God that came true,” he said last Friday as he was getting his hands wrapped at the Boxing Academy in the City of Industry. The last three fights have seen Santa Cruz, who’s gaining popularity, perform at the Home Depot Center in Carson, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and now the House of Kobe. “I never thought I’d be on those big stages but all the hard work and the training and the sacrifices I do, it’s paying off and it’s all the years of hard work.”
As Santa Cruz embarked on this career, he fought in places like the Martin Valley Mansion in Maryland, the Valencia Ballroom in York, Pennsylvania and the Expo Center in the City of Industry as he was promoted first by Top Rank and then TKO Promotions. It’s boxing’s version of the minor leagues and riding buses on the backroads before you get called up “The Big Show.” Dues are paid on this circuit. It’s a rite of passage that almost every fighter goes through.
“You see the differences,” says Santa Cruz of the amenities (or lack thereof) provided on these smaller promotions. One of them is you oftentimes see three or four fighters cramped into a single dressing area, herded up like cattle before their fights. Now, he gets fancy locker rooms specifically designated for him. “It makes you feel special,” he admits.
But whether you’re fighting in a small casino ballroom in front of a few hundred folks or part of a nationally televised card on a premium cable outlet, boxing is boxing. Same yet still a bit different. It’s at the level where Santa Cruz is now where the lights are the brightest.
“At the beginning, yeah, it’s different because you see more people. You get more nervous or even chills, stuff like that. But once you’re up in the ring, everything goes away and it’s all the same when you start,” said “Teremoto,” who has a record of 21-0 with 12 stoppages. For a long time, Santa Cruz, who comes from a fighting family (and is trained by his father) was an under-the-radar prospect. But starting around 2010, he made rapid improvement, seemingly growing into his body and getting his “man-strength.” He is now considered among the most fan-friendly fighters in the sport. This past June, Santa Cruz was able to win the vacant IBF crown by outworking South African Vusi Malinga over 12 rounds, when he just seemed to build momentum as the fight went on. In September, he halted Eric Morel on the Saul Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez undercard.
When asked if his life is any different since winning the title, he says, “It changed a little bit; the pay is better and I got more fans. I’m hearing more fans; they’ve been noticing me more. Little changes, like I get more attention.” When Santa Cruz goes to fights, he’s no longer just another guy watching boxing. “They’ll ask, ‘Oh, are you Leo Santa Cruz?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ They’ll ask me when I’m going to fight and stuff like that.”
He admits it’s not the worst thing in the world getting noticed in this manner.
“It makes me excited, happy, and it shows that my hard work is paying off and they like how I fight,” said Santa Cruz, who makes his Staples Center debut. It could be the first of many appearances. Despite living in this region his whole life, he hasn’t been there all that often. “As a fan, I’ve been there two times, only,” he admitted. “I went to one fight and I went to watch a basketball game. It’s the only times I’ve been there.”
From the Alameda Swap Meet to the Staples Center. Yeah, he’s graduated alright.

“I’m really excited because not only am I going to fight on the big stage but this is my hometown. Hopefully my people and my fans come and support me. This fight will be for them and I’m training really hard to give them a good fight.”
In my previous article (, I expressed some of the fallacies in regard to how the WBA somehow did an injustice to Daniel Geale by stripping him of their middleweight belt. Well, after reading my article, a member of Golovkin’s team chimed in:
Great article explaining the WBA stripping of Geale.
One additional point that a lot of people don’t realize is that Geale pulled out of a scheduled fight with Pirog on HBO to take a more lucrative fight against Sturm.
The only way Sturm was able to avoid fighting GGG was he petitioned the WBA for a unification fight, which can trump a mandatory.
In essence, because Geale fought Sturm he allowed Sturm to avoid GGG for yet another fight.
Geale and Gary Shaw were both aware they needed to fight GGG as part of the condition to fight Sturm.  To suggest that it is unfair they are being disingenuous....
Also, HBO would have paid Geale over $500K plus TV rights for Aus plus half of the gate at the Theater at MSG for a unification fight with GGG.
For Geale to suggest there was no money and a small show in the US is also completely untrue( although I don’t know what Gary told him)
So you are completely correct that they knew about their obligation and decided against keeping the title.  We have absolutely no problem with Geale taking a fight with Mundine for more $, but they should stop complaining about being unfairly stripped when the WBA finally did the right thing and enforced their rules.
If Geale did not fight Sturm, then GGG would have had that fight and gotten the Sturm victory on his record instead of Geale.  Geale could have always fought Mundine instead of Sturm if that fight was so lucrative.

So there it is. Yeah, the easy narrative is to rip the sanctioning bodies but here, the facts win out.


It’ll be interesting to see what happens on January 19th on both HBO and Showtime. Sources have confirmed that K2 Promotions have put in their application for Gennady Golovkin to headline a card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, it looks like a fight between Danny Garcia and Zab Judah is finalized according to Richard Schaefer ( and it could take place at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

I’m told that the NYSAC is frowning upon having two high-profile shows take place in their jurisdiction at the same time.


According to the NYSAC, the October 20th card at the Barclays Center had an attendance of 11,369 with 9,635 tickets sold and a gate of “nearly a million dollars” ( is what I was told over the phone)...The fight between WBA 122-pound titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux and Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym for December 15th as the opening bout on HBO before Nonito Donaire faces Jorge Arce in Houston has been finalized...It looks like a fight between Shawn Porter and Julio Diaz will take place on the Amir Khan-Carlos Molina undercard on December 15th at the L.A. Sports Arena (|head). This looks like an Al Haymon special here...The Eagles don’t look like a team much interested in playing for Andy Reid right now...Who knew Nucky Thompson still had that much fight in him?...I know it’s early but our the perennially underachieving New York Knickerbockers for real?...I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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