Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, WBA Super World featherweight champ Leo “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs), from Rosemead, California, by way of Huetamo, Michoacan de Ocampo, Mexico, KO’d rugged Kiko “La Sensacion” Martinez (35-7, 26 KOs), from Torrellano, Alicante, Spain, at 2:09 of round five in a blistering war of attrition.
Fighting out of the blue corner in black trunks with gold trim, Santa Cruz faced an opponent he was guaranteed to beat. It was the first defense of the featherweight title he won from Abner Mares six months earlier, so maybe he deserved an easy touch.
But Martinez, fighting out of the red corner in red trunks trimmed in black, is no easy touch. Ranked ranked #9 by the WBA and having lost two of his last five fights, to Carl Frampton in 2014 and Scott Quigg in 2015, Kiko came to fight and came to win.
No sooner had the opening bell sounded than it looked to be over. Twenty-five seconds into the bout, Santa Cruz dropped Martinez with a shot to the top of the head. Kiko got to his feet. Leo was teeing off and an uppercut followed by a right dropped the Spaniard a minute later. He beat the count a second time and they continued to trade. Martinez’s wide shots were no match for Leo’s compact delivery. But will to win, unlike punches, is difficult to quantify, and Martinez and Santa Cruz have will to win in spades.
Santa Cruz is two years younger than Kiko. He is four and a half inches taller than Kiko. He also, at least for now, has less wear and tear. He is more skilled than most of the men he has faced, but each of his boxing matches turns into a fight. Leo is extremely tough but not athletic. He has to gut it out with whomever he fights. In some ways he was as tailor-made for Martinez as Martinez was for him.
The nuances of the sweet science are like Greek to these two men. Neither takes a step back. Neither feints. Neither man ever met a punch he didn’t like. Defensively challenged offensive whirlwinds, Santa Cruz and Martinez absorb and trade punches like there’s no tomorrow. That always makes for great fights. It also makes for short careers.
“The fans love it when two fighters go toe-to-toe,” said Santa Cruz after the fight. “We were going toe-to-toe from the beginning. He’s was throwing good punches I was throwing out good punches and the crowd was loving it.
“I wanted to give the fans a great fight. I knew I could hurt him with a right hand. He’s a fighter and when he’s knocked down, he’s going to come back. In the fifth round I knew I had to finish him off and I did.”
The end of the fight was as dramatic as what preceded it.
“Towards the end I said, ‘This is it, this is my opportunity to take him down. If I don’t finish him right here, it’s going to make it a really tough fight.’ So I said I was going at it with my all and thankfully it turned out the way that it did.”
Nobody thought Kiko would win, but it was thrilling while it lasted. He drew first blood from Leo’s nose in round three. The fight may have been somewhat one-sided, while not as one-sided as the numbers suggest, but it wasn’t a slaughter (unless they happened to be slaughtering each other).
The end, when it came, came as no surprise. But Martinez is no easy out; far from it. He’s one helluva fighter, a do-or-die gladiator until the very end.
It’s not always the case, but in this case the numbers are revealing. According to CompuBox, there were 1,038 total punches thrown during the five-round fight. Of those 1,038 punches, Santa Cruz landed 234 of 570 (41%) to 74 of 468 (16%) for Martinez. Leo landed 44 of 222 jabs (20%) to Martinez’s 20 of 224 (9%). And in the power punch department, the champ connected with 234 of 570 (55%) to 54 of 244 (22%) for the challenger.
Santa Cruz wants a rematch with Mares, but a fight with Carl Frampton, Gary Russell, Lee Selby, Jesus Cuellar, or Guillermo Rigondeaux might be in the cards going down the line.
“I’m up for anyone,” Leo said. “I’d love to fight Carl Frampton. He won, he said he wants to move up in weight, so let’s do it.”
This article was penned by the author who is not related to the WBA and the statements, expressions or opinions referenced herein are that of the author alone and not the WBA.