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Leo Santa Cruz & Company in L.A. in February

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Leo Santa Cruz

Though born in Michoacan, Mexico the lanky figure of Leo Santa Cruz was raised in the boxing gyms of Los Angeles like his brothers.

Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) returns to his adopted home to defend the WBA featherweight world title against another Michoacan-born fighter Miguel Flores (23-2) on February 16. The co-main features L.A. fighter John Molina versus Omar Figueroa and Fox will televise from Microsoft Theater in LA.

Both of these bouts should be battles.

Decades ago, literally down the street, fighters like Santa Cruz (pictured with his young son David) and Molina would have drawn vibrant crowds at the Olympic Auditorium and front page news from local newspapers like the Los Angeles Mirror, L.A. Herald, L.A. Times or L.A. Examiner. Boxing was big business before the arrival of the Dodgers in 1958 and Lakers in 1960.

Los Angeles is firmly staunched as the entertainment capital of the world and the center of both the music and film industry. Residents have multiple options for entertainment.

But this year, the sport of prizefighting will be showcased almost every week with more boxing than ever before in the history of the sport.

Premier Boxing Champions on FOX will be bringing dozens of these shows this year kicking it off with Santa Cruz and Flores at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A.

Conga Room

On Thursday, Santa Cruz, Flores and Molina arrived at the Conga Room for the press conference. If you know anything about this trio it’s that all three are bangers. Big time bangers.

Santa Cruz followed the footsteps of his brothers Jose Armando and Roberto Santa Cruz who both fought at super lightweight. Leo arrived with his mouth full of braces and it seemed to cause problems whenever he fought.

But he could fight at an abnormal pace and those lanky arms would find holes in the opposition’s defense.

The first time Santa Cruz fought in California he showcased his hyper frenetic style in defeating a fighter named Elton Dharry at Morongo Casino in November 2007. A little more than a month later Santa Cruz fought on a freezing cold night at a swap meet near Los Angeles. He stopped his opponent there in two rounds.

He always showed ability but for some reason only boxing manager Cameron Dunkin saw ability in Santa Cruz. Promoters were reluctant to sign the bantamweight who never stopped punching.

Another two years passed with Santa Cruz beating everyone placed in front of him. But in August 2009, at Pala Casino, he fought toe-to-toe with an extremely durable Robert DaLuz who despite his record was a rough and tough fighter out of Providence, Rhode Island. It was a brutal affair with Santa Cruz emerging the winner.

The next three Santa Cruz fights took place at Commerce Casino and it seemed he had figured out the formula to success. He was like a fighting machine and every movement was precise and effective in winning all three fights by knockout.

Fans at the glitzy casino near East L.A. could detect a champion.

Now, 10 years later, here he is ready to defend his featherweight title a third time. He’s already captured world titles in the super bantamweight and bantamweight divisions.

“I’m not looking past Miguel Flores. I have to be positive and always look toward the future. I’m not looking back,” said Santa Cruz at the press conference. “I’m just training hard to get that win and become the best at 126-pounds. First that means beating Miguel Flores.”

Flores, who like Santa Cruz was born in Michoacan, Mexico, now fights out of Houston, Texas. He’s a self-professed slugger and plucky.

“I’m excited to be starting off the year with this great opportunity. I’m going to give the writers an easy task, because on February 16 I’m going to give them the Upset of the Year and the Fight of the Year on the same night,” said Flores, 26.

John John

Covina’s John Molina has another surefire foe in front of him next month when he faces undefeated Omar Figueroa in a welterweight showdown between sluggers.

Molina last fought a year ago in a crazy back and forth battle against Ivan Redkach that saw both fighters hit the floor. In the end, Molina scored a knockout win in the fourth round that had fans delirious.

No fight is ever over until the final bell rings with Molina.

“I saw Figueroa say that he’s not going to see me get out of the fourth round. Well he’s not going to see that, because he’s going to be asleep,” said Molina.

Don’t expect either of the featured bouts to go the distance. It’s a promoter’s delight.

“Southern California has long been a hotbed of slugfests between great Mexican-American fighters, and with Leo Santa Cruz and Miguel Flores, plus Omar Figueroa vs. John Molina Jr., we have the makings of another all-out war on February 16. This is going to be a great night,” said Tom Brown, of TGB Promotions.

Tickets begin at $30 and can be purchased through AXS.com

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

BLK Prime’s inaugural venture went off without a hitch. An announced crowd of 14,630 turned out in Omaha to watch native son Terence Crawford dismantle David Avanesyan. BLK Prime’s second promotion, slated for Feb. 25 at a 5,000-seat venue in Atlanta, has been messy from the get-go. The executives at the fledgling company, based in Hayward, California, are learning to their dismay that the sport of professional boxing is governed by Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Adrien Broner’s nickname is “The Problem” (how perfect!) but the problem isn’t him but finding a suitable opponent for the former four-division title holder who purportedly signed a three-fight deal with BLK Prime that will pay him an absurd $10 million. As reported in a story that ran on these pages last week, Broner’s original opponent Ivan Redkach pulled out and was replaced by Hank Lundy. Today (Tuesday, Jan. 24) it was revealed that Lundy was also off the card and would be replaced by Michael Williams Jr.

Prior to being lopped off the card, it was reported that Hank Lundy had been suspended by the California Athletic Commission for failing to honor his contract to fight up-and-comer Ernesto Mercado (8-0, 8 KOs) on Feb. 4. The match was to be an 8-rounder in Ontario, California. According to prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan, Lundy provided paperwork to the California commission showing that he was unable to keep his commitment because of a cut he suffered in sparring.

Some state athletic commissions automatically honor a suspension handed down in another jurisdiction. Other commissions evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. It’s a fair guess that had Lundy kept quiet about the (alleged) injury, the Georgia commission would have allowed the Broner-Lundy match to go forward. Regardless, he’s out and, barring more upheaval, Broner (pictured) will be touching gloves with Michael Williams Jr.

The son of an Army veteran who serves as his chief trainer, Williams Jr, 23, was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, and grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg. As a pro, he’s 20-1 with 13 KOs but those 20 wins came against a motley bunch of opponents and he failed miserably on the one occasion that he stepped up in class. On Dec. 11, 2021, he was stopped in four rounds by fellow unbeaten John Bauza on a Top Rank card at Madison Square Garden. Williams suffered five knockdowns before the match was halted. “He’s got a lot to work on. There are some glaring issues here,” said ringside TV commentator Andre Ward.

Although the Fayetteville area has long had a reputation as pugilistic feed lot (a place where boxers go to fatten up their records), the feeling is that Williams may have been awed by his surroundings that night in the Big Apple, hence his poor showing. During the early portion of his career, he was co-trained by Roy Jones Jr who reportedly hooked up with the young junior welterweight after witnessing him bully a bunch of ex-cons while sparring at a gym in New Orleans.

Does he have the tools to make things interesting against Adrien Broner? Likely not, but Broner tends to fight down to his level of competition, so it wouldn’t surprise us if Williams wins a few rounds.

Heavyweights at the Crossroads

SHOWTIME drops anchor in San Antonio on Feb. 11 with a card headlined by a match between Rey Vargas and O’Shaquie Foster. They will compete for the WBC 130-pound world title vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

Truth be told, this isn’t a contest that gets our juices flowing. The undefeated Vargas, who has won world titles at 122 and 127, is a solid technician but doesn’t fight with pizzazz. He hasn’t won a fight inside the distance since 2016. Foster is on a nice roll – he’s won nine straight, advancing his record to 19-2 — but likewise lacks charisma.

The pay-per-view opener, however, seized our interest. It’s that very rare contest between two rising heavyweights at the same juncture of their respective careers. On paper there’s little to choose between Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs) and Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs). Both are the same age (30), are roughly the same size (in the six-foot-five and 240-pound range) and were outstanding amateurs.

Faust

Viktor Faust, aka Viktor Vykhryst, is from the Ukraine. In 2017, he won the European amateur title, defeating future Olympian Frazer Clarke in the finals. He turned pro in 2020, spurning an opportunity to represent Ukraine in the Tokyo Olympics.

Faust, says prospect watcher Matt Andrzejewski, is extremely fluid for his size and his hand speed is well above average. He also has one-punch knockout power as he demonstrated in his third pro fight when he starched the Spaniard, Gabriel Enguema. However, his most recent fight on U.S. soil, a match in Hollywood, Florida, against Iago kiladze, left many questions unanswered.

This was a wild and wooly affair that ended in the second minute of the second round. Kiladze was down three times and Faust twice during the tumult. Because Kiladze was on the small size for a heavyweight, one was left wondering whether Faust could have weathered the storm if he were matched against a bigger man.

Since that scuffle, Faust has added two more wins to his ledger, comfortable 8-round decisions over 40-something gatekeepers Kevin Johnson and Franklin Lawrence.

Pero

Lenier Pero, a Cuban defector, was never an Olympian, but had a more extensive amateur career. He was 9-3 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing but what really stands out is that he was 5-1 against countryman Frank Sanchez who has made great headway as a pro since leaving Cuba in 2017 and is currently ranked #3 by the WBC and #2 by the WBO.

Although the amateur careers of Faust and Pero overlapped, their paths never crossed. However, Faust did fight Lenier’s younger brother Dainier Pero who is currently 2-0 as a pro and may actually be a better prospect than his sibling. Faust and Dainier Pero met in 2018 at a tournament in the Ukraine and the Cuban won a close decision.

Perhaps that’s an omen. Regardless, Lenier Pero looks like the right side in what has the earmarks of an entertaining shootout.

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David Benavidez and Caleb Plant Both Want ‘Canelo’ Álvarez

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American Fighter David Benavidez has been in constant pursuit of an opportunity to face Canelo Álvarez and, until now, it has been an unrealizable dream. For his compatriot Caleb Plant, his match up with Canelo in 2021 resulted in a resounding loss.

For several years, Benavidez has been trying to cross gloves with Mexican star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs), who has avoided facing him despite receiving countless criticisms from boxing fans.

Undefeated in the ranks, everything indicates that today Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) is closer than ever to finally matching up against Canelo, the current holder of the four most prestigious super middleweight titles in boxing: WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO.

Previously, by order of the WBC, Benavidez faced Canadian David Lemieux (43-5, 36 KOs), to whom he applied chloroform in the third round in Glendale, Arizona, where the winner conquered the Interim title of that sanctioning body.

After the victory, the WBC declared that Benavidez had the obligation to collide with Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs), who was ranked the number one contender by both the WBA and the WBO and third by the IBF.

According to Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC, the winner between Benavidez and Plant becomes the mandatory challenger for Canelo in a battle for that organization’s belt.

However, the future seems quite complicated for the winner between Benavidez and Plant, since Canelo is currently in negotiations with British southpaw John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) to fight in May and, subsequently, in September, to carry out the rematch against Russian Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who defeated him unanimously on May 7 of last year at the T-Mobile Arena where the European retained the WBA light heavyweight belt.

Benavidez has been outspoken about Canelo’s refusal to face him: He (Canelo) knows I’m the biggest threat at 168.” Benavidez stressed the fact that Canelo avoids him because he knows that if he accepts the fight, the same thing will happen to him as against Dmitry Bivol, an adversary who is also larger and equally as strong as the Mexican redhead.

Despite the efforts and multiple statements by Benavidez (also by José Benavidez Sr, his father and trainer), Canelo has always chosen other adversaries with the excuse that Benavidez has not fought any elite rivals that would make him worthy of the opportunity.

CALEB PLANT WANTS REVENGE AGAINST CANELO

“That wasn’t my best camp going into that fight,” said Plant about last year’s battle with Canelo, “but, regardless, that’s not the reason I lost. I lost because I got caught with a great shot and I got stopped.” Plant was clear about wanting to meet Canelo in the ring again. “I want a rematch with Canelo. If I have to pick up every last top super middleweight in the division to get to that, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Canelo’s victory against Plant at the T-Mobile Arena in November 2021 made him the first boxer from Latin America with the four most important titles, in any weight category. But six months later, in May of last year, Álvarez suffered the second setback of his career, losing unanimously to Bivol who retained his WBA “super” title belt at 175 pounds.

Four years ago, on January 13, 2019, Plant won the IBF belt, unanimously defeating Venezuelan José Uzcátegui (32-5, 27 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Uzcátegui went to the canvas in both the second and fourth rounds. Plant lost the IBF title in the unification match against Canelo, a title that Plant had defended three times prior.

Mauricio Sulaimán confirmed to several media outlets that the winner of the upcoming battle between Benavidez and Plant will be the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s WBC super-middleweight title. Per ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Benavidez vs Plant will take place on March 25th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

To comment on this story in the fight Forum CLICK HERE

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