- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Leo Santa Cruz emerged in 2012 as one of the most exciting fighters in boxing and there is no sign of that letting up, in whichever weight class he fights in.
Last year, Santa Cruz, who throws punches non-stop, won a vacant bantamweight title and defended it three times in a series of exciting fights. He fought five times overall.
But troubled by making the 118-pound weight limit, Santa Cruz vacated his title, moved up to junior featherweight and demolished former junior bantamweight titleholder Alexander Munoz in five rounds in May on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero undercard.
Now Santa Cruz (24-0-1, 14 KOs) is set to challenge for a title in that weight class when he faces Victor Terrazas (37-2-1, 21 KOs), who will be making his first defense after winning the vacant belt via split decision against former junior bantamweight champion Cristian Mijares in April.
The fight figures to be another barn-burner and takes place Saturday night (Showtime, 10:25 ET with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 8 ET/PT) at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Should Santa Cruz win the belt, don’t expect him to have a long reign. That is because the featherweight division will likely beckon for a major showdown with titleholder Abner Mares, should Mares (26-0-1, 14 KOs) retain his belt against former two-division titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (54-8, 46 KOs) in the main event.
Besides putting on a pair of likely action-packed fights on Saturday, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer sees a Mares-Santa Cruz fight in the not-too-distant future, so what better way to lay the groundwork than by having them on the same card as a prelude?
“If that’s the biggest fight, which the fans want, the network wants, and has an opportunity to make a substantial amount of money for both fighters, then let’s do it,” Schaefer said, knowing, of course, that it will be the biggest makeable fight for both guys. “And I know that Abner and Leo are the kind of fighters that never turn down anyone. They’re always up for a challenge. Both of them are just tremendous fighters and both of them are really super nice guys outside of the ring, as well.
“They respect each other and they are both a pleasure to promote. So we at Golden Boy believe in the best fighting the best and if it’s going to happen with both of those guys, who are considered the best in these weight classes, we certainly won’t be standing in the way.”
If they both win Saturday, Mares and Santa Cruz probably would have one or two fights before they fight each other, but count on Schaefer putting it together. As Schaefer says often, he doesn’t like to let fights “marinate.”
“Let’s see what happens [Saturday]. I think both fighters should have maybe a couple or so title defenses and then we’ll see, assuming everything goes well,” Schaefer said. “But let’s do first things first.”
Mares and Santa Cruz are friendly with each other outside the ring, but that would not stand in the way of a fight between them, especially since they would both earn considerable purses.
“If everything goes good I will win the title and hope to defend it. [But] if the fans want the fight, I would want that fight,” Santa Cruz said. "He’s my friend. We talk good and everything. I wouldn’t want to fight him, but if the fans want it we’d have to give it to them, because we have to give what the fans want and if they want that fight we will make it happen.”
Terrazas and Gonzalez, of course, stand in the way. Terrazas is riding an 11-fight winning streak since 2010. Gonzalez is a big puncher with tons of experience.
“I know that with Terrazas it’s going to be a great fight. He’s a warrior,” Santa Cruz said. “He’s a Mexican fighter, he comes forward with pressure in the ring. I’m going to do the same, because I want that title. I know he wants to defend the title. I know how we are, that when we win something we don’t want to lose it and I know he had struggled a lot for to win that title and that he’s going to come 100 percent prepared too. But I’m the same. I want that title.”