Leo Santa Cruz: What's the Ceiling for Unbeaten Bantamweight?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 15:  Leo Santa Cruz reacts after knocking out Eric Morel during their IBF bantamweight title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 15, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Getty Images

Leo Santa Cruz is a lot more like a championship fighter from the 1950s than he is a modern-day fighter.

There is nothing 1950-ish about his skills, and he doesn't have to take a backseat when it comes to quickness, desire or athleticism.

But modern-day champions are likely to fight two or three times a year. Back in the '50s, fighters fought every month or two.

Santa Cruz, the 24-year-old IBF bantamweight champion, stepped into the ring five times this year and recorded a 5-0 record.

Santa Cruz stays active because he rarely takes time off from training. After he defeated Victor Zaleta in November, Santa Cruz took two days off before he returned to the gym.

“I want to finish the year strong," Santa Cruz told The Orange County Register. "And then get ready for 2013 and look for the bigger fights.

“I’ve been fighting a lot, but this is what I want. I want to keep fighting, so the fans can get to know me and they see who Leo Santa Cruz is.”

After his ninth-round TKO over Zaleta, Santa Cruz met Alberto Guevara Dec. 15 in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. That bout was broadcast nationally by CBS, as the network showed its first boxing match since 1997.

Santa Cruz started slowly against the tricky Guevara before turning it on and dominating from the middle rounds to the end of the 12th round. Santa Cruz earned a unanimous decision in the fight and raised his record to 23-0-1.

Santa Cruz is constantly in training because he wants to keep working his way up the ladder. Though he holds the IBF bantamweight crown, he is rated behind bantamweights Shinsuke Yamanaka, Anselmo Moreno and Malcolm Tunacao by BoxRec.com.

Santa Cruz showed both his strength and his weakness in the Guevara bout. Early on, he was not on his game and seemed to have a hard time figuring out Guevara. He got tagged hard by his rival before he understood what he was trying to do, and he defeated Guevara's strategy by beating him to the punch and winging hard lefts and rights.

The slow start turned out not to be an issue in this fight, but it could become one against a higher-quality fighter.

His ability to diagnose what his opponent was doing is his strength: He prevented Guevara from getting inside, and he landed some brutal shots of his own to take charge of the fight.

However, none of those shots put Guevara down. Since many of them were clean and on the button, it's fair to question Santa Cruz's power.

He's a fighter who is approaching the prime of his career, and he is clearly improving each time out. CBS thought enough of him to put him on their first national television broadcast in 15 years, so it's apparent he has headliner ability.

The key for Santa Cruz will be to increase his power so he can continue to put on impressive shows that attract national television cameras.

He has a chance to crack the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but it will take continued progress and increased power.