Leo Santa Cruz to fight Eric Morel

Updated: August 21, 2012, 12:51 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Bantamweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz will make his first title defense against former flyweight titlist Eric Morel on Sept. 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in a Mexico versus Puerto Rico rivalry fight on Mexican Independence Day weekend.

Showtime said Monday that the bout would open the network's Golden Boy-promoted quadrupleheader, which will be headlined by Mexican star junior middleweight titleholder Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs). He will face Josesito Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) in his fifth title defense.

Santa Cruz-Morel is contingent upon Morel being granted a license by the Nevada State Athletic Commission at Friday's monthly meeting, but that is likely a formality. All fighters who seek licenses in Nevada who are 35 or older are required to go through a more rigorous licensing procedure than younger fighters.

On June 2 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., Santa Cruz (20-0-1, 11 KOs) turned in a dominant performance when he easily outpointed Vusi Malinga of South Africa to win the 118-pound title vacated earlier this year by Abner Mares, who moved up in weight.

Santa Cruz, who turned 24 on Aug. 10, fought Malinga in the opening bout of a Showtime quadrupleheader -- which included the Antonio Tarver-Lateef Kayode draw in the cruiserweight main event -- and stole the show.

Santa Cruz, a native of Mexico living in Rosemead, Calif., rolled to a unanimous decision against Malinga on scores of 120-108, 120-108 and 119-109. But what was so impressive was Santa Cruz's incredible work rate. He threw an astonishing 1,350 punches (and landed 410), an output rarely matched in the thousands of 12-round fights tracked by CompuBox.

Santa Cruz's performance was impressive enough in his first wide American television exposure that he landed another opening slot on the Sept. 15 Showtime card. Besides Santa Cruz-Morel and Alvarez-Lopez, featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (52-7, 45 KOs) will defend against former junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (43-4, 35 KOs) in the all-Mexican co-feature and Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana (31-3, 28 KOs), a former junior welterweight titlist now fighting at welterweight, will face Jesus Soto Karass (26-7-3, 17 KOs) of Mexico.

Morel (46-3, 23 KOs), 36, a 1996 U.S. Olympian originally from Puerto Rico, held a flyweight title from 2000 to 2003 and also held an interim bantamweight belt in 2010.

On April 21, Morel lost a lopsided decision to Mares for a vacant junior featherweight belt and is dropping back down to bantamweight to challenge Santa Cruz.