I really like Leo Santa Cruz, not just as a boxer, a four-division champion at that, but as a man. Nicknamed “El Terremoto,” Santa Cruz is a very humble guy who, unlike so many, chooses to be quiet and respectful and let his fists do all the talking. He has a heart big as a wheel, the heart of a lion. But I might be biased. After all, he hails from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, called “East Los” by some, not far from where I grew up in South Central LA, and even closer to where I went to college. I’ve been following his career for a long time.
Leo is a home boy, the kind I went to school with, a family man. When you look at him and see that million-dollar smile, you just know Leo Santa Cruz has a lot of love in his heart. As does, I’m certain, Leo’s father, José Santa Cruz, who has trained his son since Leo was a kid. The dad is a Vaquero Norteño, a northern Mexico cowboy, who always wore his cowboy hat in and out of the ring. José almost died from COVID-19 over the summer and has been confined to a wheelchair during Leo’s training sessions for the Davis fight, though he still helps out when he can.
I know everyone in the boxing community is pulling for José and it is reported his son wants the big win over Gervonta Davis so he can dedicate the victory, which would be a major upset, to his dad. Leo has prepared with his brother filling in for José for this obviously difficult fight, perhaps the most difficult in the distinguished career of Santa Cruz. A measure of the mountain Leo has to climb, at least with the fight public, is that “Tank” Davis is listed by some as a six-to-one favorite to win at the Alamodome tomorrow.
I’ve been following Leo’s career from the time he turned pro, a little skinny Chicano kid who could box. In his early fights, a close observer could see he had power in both hands, along with great footwork and a boxing mind. Years later, his tilts with another Chicano boxer from East LA, Abner Mares (who I thought then, and still do, was a bit of a dirty fighter), were true ring wars with both men leaving it all in the ring. So too Leo’s battles with Carl Frampton. Northern Ireland’s Frampton remains the only opponent to defeat Santa Cruz, “The Jackal” taking a twelve round majority decision in 2016 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But Santa Cruz regained his featherweight title belt when he won their immediate rematch by majority decision.
Notwithstanding all this history, and Leo’s experience and proven courage, I don’t like his chances tomorrow. To be real here, against heavy-handed Tank Davis, no one’s chances are great. In fact I’m toying with the idea of not buying the pay-per-view because I just don’t want to see Leo take the beat-down Davis has put on virtually all the boxers who were courageous enough to get in the ring with him. There’s a good chance of a KO tomorrow night, and unfortunately I see it as one that will be suffered by my guy. And it would break my heart to see Leo get knocked out.
But then again, it’s not as if he has no chance of winning. Technically speaking, “El Terremoto” is a far better boxer than Davis. And he will climb into the ring with solid advantages in terms of ring experience, heart, skill, and stamina, the latter being a quality many regard as suspect with Davis. Yet, there is no comparison in the power department. Much is going to depend on style, strategy and tactics, which counsels Santa Cruz to stick and move and stay out of range of the big ‘put-you-to-sleep punches’ Davis will be trying to land. But there’s a specific trait of Leo’s style, which everyone admires, that may get him knocked out sooner rather than later. This being that, above all, as he showed especially in the Abner Mares and Frampton wars: Leo Santa Cruz is, at heart, a warrior and a brawler.
As everyone knows, styles make fights. If Leo brawls with Davis, a smaller fighter but with a knockout punch in both his gloves, Davis can and will make it lights out for Leo early. My man’s biggest strength, his never-say-die courage and tenacity, may be his undoing. Meanwhile, “El Terremoto” isn’t known for his power. In 37 wins, 19 were by KO or TKO and 18 were by decision. He has only five outright career knockouts, with the last one being three years ago against Chris Avalos. He hasn’t had a stoppage win since.
Looking at Gervonta’s record we see his combined KO stats, including technical knockouts, are 22 of 23 total fights with eight clean knockouts, an overall KO ratio of 95.7 percent. That’s both an awesome and an ominous stat for Santa Cruz as, in terms of power, “Tank” Davis is the real deal. That dangerous young man has some heavy hands.
Bottom line is my guy has to use his smarts, experience and skills to out-box Davis, but I have trouble envisioning Leo doing that for twelve rounds. As for him turning the tables on Gervonta and scoring an upset stoppage win, you just can’t land a big shot if you’re on your back-foot all the time, which is where I think Leo will be for most of this contest.
But then there’s the matter, previously mentioned, of Leo’s heart and his willingness to go to war. That can’t be the strategy going into the ring; if it is, I’m fairly certain he gets counted out. He and his people have got to be thinking in terms of a disciplined fight, using the ring, sticking and moving, keeping Davis on the end of his punches. If he can do that for twelve rounds, “El Terremoto” just may prove me wrong. And if he does, absolutely no one will be happier than me. Hell, just thinking about it makes me want to buy the pay-per-view, just to see if he can shock me and the boxing world. It’s a tall order, but I would love to see it happen. Prove me wrong, Leo, and have all your fans in “East Los” dancing in the streets again. If you do, this old guy just might join them. — Ralph M. Semien