Leo Santa Cruz Retains Featherweight Title with Decision Win vs. Rafael Rivera

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorFebruary 17, 2019

Leo Santa Cruz smiles during a weigh-in Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Las Vegas. Santa Cruz is scheduled to fight Carl Frampton, of Northern Ireland, in a featherweight title boxing bout Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Leo Santa Cruz successfully defended his WBA featherweight world title on Saturday, as he defeated Rafael Rivera via unanimous decision at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

All three judges scored the bout 119-109 in favor of Santa Cruz. Per the Fox broadcast, Santa Cruz threw 1,273 punches and landed 334 of them. Rivera threw 805 and landed 161.

Santa Cruz was initially scheduled to face Miguel Flores, but the challenger suffered an ankle injury during training camp. Rivera took his place on January 24.

The 30-year-old Cruz improved to 36-1-1 (19 knockouts), with his lone loss coming against Carl Frampton in a featherweight title bout in July 2016. Cruz beat Frampton in a January 2017 rematch and has since defended his belt three straight times.

Rivera fell to 26-3-2. He put up a good fight and unleashed a fury of punches at a couple of points, notably in the ninth and 12th rounds. Dan Rafael of ESPN lauded him for a "great effort."

However, Santa Cruz was clearly the best boxer on this night. He defended the belt in his hometown and told Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times in November 2018 that he was looking for two more fights in 2019: a trilogy match against Frampton and a title unification bout versus WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr.

Santa Cruz also said in a post-match interview on Fox that he's looking to fight again in "June or July" and that he wants to fight three times total this calendar year. He also reiterated interest in meeting Russell.

Russell, 30, has successfully defended the WBC featherweight belt four times, most recently versus Joseph Diaz on May 19.

The 31-year-old Frampton, who sports a 26-2 record, is coming off a unanimous-decision loss to Josh Warrington.

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