WBA Featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz defends his title against Rafael Rivera on Saturday night at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
Rivera is a replacement foe for Santa Cruz who was initially booked to face Miguel Flores. However, Flores suffered and ankle injury while training and he was subsequently replaced by Rivera.
Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1 with 19 knockouts)
El Terremoto is a three-division world champion, having held world titles at 118, 122 and now 126 pounds. Santa Cruz won his current belt- the WBA featherweight championship, with a majority decision win over Carl Frampton in their rematch. Actually, Santa Cruz won that title back as Frampton took the belt away from Santa Cruz in their first encounter in July 2016.
The 30-year old Santa Cruz stands 5-7 ½ with a reach of 69 inches and fights out of the orthodox stance. He is coming off a successful title defense against Abner Mares in June 2018. El Terremoto has won three in a row since suffering his first career defeat at the hands of Carl Frampton. Santa Cruz avenged that majority decision defeat with a majority decision win in their rematch six months later.
Santa Cruz is known for his volume punching. He is one of the most productive boxers in the business. In his last two bouts against Abner Mares, Santa Cruz threw an average of 106 punches per round and landed an average of 30 punches per round. According to Compuvox, the featherweight average is 17 punches landed out of 59 thrown per round. That’s impressive.
Leo Santa Cruz vs Rafael Rivera Odds
Odds from betonline.ag as of 2/15/19
Rafael Rivera (26-2-2 with 17 knockouts)
Rafael Rivera is only 24 years old by has logged already 30 professional fights because he turned pro right after he turned 18 years old. An orthodox fighter, the Mexican is 5-7 tall and has a reach of 66 inches. Rivera is coming off a first round knockout win over unknown Jose Ramos which snapped a two-fight losing streak.
Rivera is getting a chance of a lifetime, being gifted a title shot, after Santa Cruz’s original opponent Miguel Flores begged off after injuring himself in training. But he may be eating more than what he can chew in Santa Cruz who is a huge step up in Rivera’s level of competition. The biggest names on Rivera’s resume are Joet Gonzalez and Joseph Diaz and he ended up losing to both fighters.
Rivera is considered by pundits as the tougher opponent than Flores but he’s fought low-level competition outside his bouts with Joet Gonzalez and Joseph Diaz. He faced only eight fighters with winning records with most of his foes coming off losing streaks. In fact Diaz has faced only one opponent who has won at least two consecutive fights prior to fighting him.
Leo Santa Cruz is one of the busiest fighters inside the boxing ring. Throwing 1000 punches in a fight is nothing extraordinary to him, really. Santa Cruz has fast hands and blistering speed. He has outworked every opponent he’s ever faced and overwhelmed most of them with his work rate. Because he is a terrific offensive machine, his defense is often underrated. Looking closely, Santa Cruz does a good job slipping punches. You rarely see him get hit, much more get hurt in his fights.
Rafael Rivera is a pretty good counter-puncher who works well behind his jab and throws hard left hooks. He has good pop in his punches as reflected by the knockout wins in his resume and on defense. Rivera has fought better when he’s the aggressor and when he’s moving forward. I’m not sure though how he does that against a punching machine like Leo Santa Cruz. But if he wants to pull off this upset, that might be his only chance.
Santa Cruz is a cut above the rest in this weight class. He’s stated that he wants to unify the belts in the division after this fight and he might just do that. He’s such a smart and skilled boxer who always gives the fans their money’s worth with action fights. Rivera is only 24 years old and while he is dangerous because he carries the unknown factor, I don’t think he is polished enough to even just test Leo Santa Cruz. He however may be a better workout than the man he replaced but I don’t see a reason why Leo Santa Cruz loses this fight. Leo should overwhelm him with volume and I’m expecting a stoppage in the middle or late rounds.
I’m picking Leo Santa Cruz to beat Rafael Rivera on 2/16/19.