Time To Make A Statement

On paper, it had looked like a better-than-average Showtime boxing card, with an intriguing heavyweight match-up along with a rematch of one of last year’s best fights, plus a title defense by Leo Santa Cruz. But a closer look, and a medical exam, causes one to be less enthusiastic.

First of all, the Gerald Washington vs Oscar Rivas fight has been cancelled at the last minute. Rivas, who had suffered a detached retina in 2013, failed a commission eye exam. While he is not receiving a federal suspension, the California State Athletic Commission decided additional tests are required before they could issue Rivas a license to box.

Oscar Rivas: more tests required.
Oscar Rivas: more tests required.

Rivas vs Washington had the potential to be an entertaining heavyweight scrap, seeing as both men would presumably be highly motivated to make a statement win on Showtime. Washington is looking for redemption following his performance against Amir Mansour last October which was universally panned, while the undefeated Rivas, after missing all of 2013 due to his eye injury, has since scored six consecutive stoppage wins and needs to move his career to the next level. Alas, the bout will not happen.

But, serious fight fans can still look forward to the co-main event. Julio Ceja defends his WBC Super Bantamweight title against fellow Mexican Hugo Ruiz in a match that promises nothing but fireworks. The last time these two met, both men kissed the canvas with Ruiz dropping Ceja with a left hook to the temple in round three and dominating in round four. But Ceja battled back and dropped Ruiz with his own hook before forcing a stoppage in round five.

For Ceja, this is a chance to get into the conversation and position himself as a possible opponent for the winner of Scott Quigg vs Carl Frampton this weekend. While Ceja is the shorter fighter, he makes up for it with power in both hands, especially his left hook, a punch which has given him 27 knockouts in 30 wins. Against Ruiz, Ceja was able to make up for the disparity in technical skill by pressing the action and throwing big power punches.

Ruiz
Ruiz and Ceja rumble.

For Ruiz, the first three rounds were going according to his plan as he was able to use his sharp boxing skills and long jab to catch Ceja. The main thing for Ruiz to avoid is allowing himself to fight inside with Ceja which led to his being nailed by big power shots. Ruiz must box with discipline while Ceja just needs to unload his power.

Washington vs Rivas and Ceja vs Ruiz is a high-quality double-header, but the heavyweight fight is gone, and so we have to give more attention to Kiko Martinez vs Leo Santa Cruz, and of the three scheduled bouts, it was this match which boxing fans were looking forward to the least.

“It’s astounding that after his big win over Mares, Santa Cruz and his team would pick Kiko,” one boxing trainer recently told me. “Kiko is tough but he is near the end of his career. This hurts Cruz’s stock, because fans just look at this fight as a big step down.”

Kiko Martinez
Kiko Martinez

It’s not that Martinez is a bad fighter as his record of 35-6 with 26 KO’s has led him to title reigns at Super Bantamweight. Knockout wins over Jonatan Romero, Bernard Dunne, Jeffrey Mathebula and Hozumi Hasegawa prove Martinez could compete at a high level and defeat some excellent fighters.

The problem was when he stepped up against elite competition, guys like Rendall Munroe, Carl Frampton, and Scott Quigg. In those fights he was either outboxed or knocked out. And at this late stage of his career, he’s coming up in weight and giving up both height and reach to his younger, fresher opponent.

Leo Santa Cruz is a heavy favorite tomorrow night partly because he has shown that he is a pressure fighter who can wear down opponents with steady power and a granite chin. Last August Cruz was able to walk the talented Abner Mares down for most of the match and then land big right hands from the outside.

Santa Cruz defeats Mares: a turning point?
Santa Cruz defeats Mares: a turning point?

Before the Mares win, fans were getting tired of the slow and seemingly reluctant Santa Cruz taking on average fighters who had no chance of winning. From Cesar Seda, to Maneul Roman, to Jose Cayetano, Cruz was derided for getting fed easy fights for big money. Indeed, the reason Golden Boy sold his contract to Al Haymon was at least in part due to Santa Cruz’s reluctance to face more challenging opposition.

Many hoped the Mares win would be a turning point in the right direction, but at the moment this does not appear to be the case. While Martinez would have been a nice step up from Cayetano, it’s a huge step down from Mares. Anything less than a emphatic knockout from Cruz will be viewed as a setback and could affect his marketability going forward.

Look for another exciting war from Ceja and Ruiz, and, I hope, a statement win from Santa Cruz. My predictions: Ceja KO6 Ruiz; Santa Cruz TKO4 Martinez.                

— Chris Connor