Leo Santa Cruz vacates IBF title

Updated: February 12, 2013, 3:20 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Leo Santa Cruz, looking for bigger fights and having trouble making the 118-pound weight limit, has vacated his bantamweight world title and is moving up to the 122-pound weight class.

Santa Cruz made it official when he notified the IBF on Monday, Lindsey Tucker, the organization's championships chairman, told ESPN.com.

The move came one day before a Tuesday purse bid was supposed to take place for Santa Cruz's mandatory title defense against Jamie McDonnell. Since Santa Cruz was not going to fight McDonnell, he vacated the title.

"We knew Leo was going to vacate," said Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer, Santa Cruz's promoter. "He felt there were no more challenges in that weight class and he felt it was time to move up for new challenges.

"We get together and discuss with our fighters where they are and where they want to be. That's what we've done with Leo and his team -- his father and (adviser) Al (Haymon). We felt, jointly, that it made sense for Leo to move up."

The 24-year-old Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KOs), who was born in Mexico and lives in Southern California, had a breakout year in 2012, a year in which he was among the honorable mentions for fighter of the year honors. He went 5-0 in an exceptionally busy schedule for a top fighter.

After winning a vacant 118-pound title by lopsided decision against Vusi Malinga in June -- in which the all-action Santa Cruz threw more than 100 punches per round -- he made three defenses: knockouts of Eric Morel and Victor Zaleta and a lopsided decision against Alberto Guevara on Dec. 15.

Santa Cruz's fight with Guevara marked the return of boxing to CBS for the first time in 15 years.

"Leo had a very busy year and it was important for his body to rest after he was so active, so we said let's target a ring return for sometime in May," Schaefer said.

Santa Cruz's debut as a full-time junior featherweight could come on its own card or, according to Schaefer, he could be part of the May 4 pay-per-view event Golden Boy is planning, which is supposed to be headlined by pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"For the first fight at the higher weight class, we want to pick a quality opponent and we see in the next two or so fights that Leo will be fighting for a world title again," Schaefer said. "He didn't move up to do tune-up fights.

"We will have to see what is available for him for a big fight, but we believe as a company that, in no particular order, Leo Santa Cruz, (Nonito) Donaire, Abner Mares, (Guillermo) Rigondeaux and Gary Russell Jr. are the best guys in these (junior featherweight and featherweight) weight classes, and we are not afraid to put Leo in with anyone."

According to Tucker, England's McDonnell (20-2-1, 9 KOs), the former European champion, who stopped Darwin Zamora in the eighth round of an October title eliminator, and Mexico's Julio Ceja (24-0, 22 KOs) will be ordered to fight to fill the vacant belt.

The representatives for McDonnell and Ceja have a month to negotiate, but if they do not make a deal, a purse bid will be ordered.