After watching ongoing coverage of the heart wrenching shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut where 26 innocent people lost their lives on Friday, fans were able to break away for a few hours on Saturday afternoon and escape to the first boxing event televised on CBS in 15 years. Although IBF bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz did not score the highlight-reel knockout many were expecting, he proved to be a worthy and proud representative of the sport with his unanimous decision victory over a very game Alberto Guevara at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The 24-year old Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KO's) had difficulty finding his rhythm in the early rounds against the elusive Guevara (16-1, 6 KO's) who managed to get his combinations off first before moving out of range. An ordinarily very busy, all-action volume puncher, Santa Cruz was not applying the same level of pressure or mounting the aggressive body attack that had been the keys to his success over his previous four fights. Guevara's footwork, combination punching from the outside and full use of the very large ring caused Santa Cruz to lunge and miss his shots.
While the 22-year old Guevara was active and accurate with his punches, bloodying the champion's nose after the first round, it was apparent that the most troubling aspect for Santa Cruz was the geography, movement and tactical boxing style of his opponent rather than the power or force of the punches that were landing on him. This, coupled with the inexperience of the young Guevara who had never been 12 rounds in his career (going 8 and 10 rounds only once previously), gave Santa Cruz an advantage as the fight wore on.
Momentum shifted in Round 6 when Santa Cruz began to come forward with more assertiveness, landing a punch that opened a cut over Guevara's right eye. The challenger began to stumble and lose balance as Santa Cruz twice landed right hands to the top of Guevara's head in Round 7. The champion came out for Round 8 sticking multiple jabs and finding his range, letting his hands go with more ease and connecting to the body with his left hooks.
By Round 9, Santa Cruz had become markedly more active and accurate while Guevara's activity, accuracy and movement had dropped. At the start of Round 10, Showtime analyst Al Bernstein referred to CompuBox ShoStats that reflected Santa Cruz outlanding Guevara 103 to 33 over Rounds 6 through 9.
Santa Cruz suddenly switched to southpaw in Round 10 which had not been seen before in his career. Although unconventional for the Mexican-born, California resident, Santa Cruz was still effective, landing 14 of his 34 power punches in the round according to CompuBox ShoStats.
The pressure was sustained over the final two rounds, as Santa Cruz backed up Guevara with multiple jabs and overhand rights. The final round found the gutsy challenger standing in the pocket trying to trade with Santa Cruz, but the difference in experience, power and pressure was too wide to overcome.
It was the third successful title defense for Santa Cruz who won a unanimous decision by scores of 119-109, 118-110, 116-112. Following the fight, the victorious champion apologized to the crowd.
"I'm sorry I didn't give as good of a show today. I felt a little different. I couldn't breathe after the third round, so I had to breathe through my mouth. I messed up my right hand in sparring — that's why I moved to southpaw," explained Santa Cruz.
"I usually throw more body shots, but he was running too much. I have been fighting a lot in the last several months and didn't give my body enough time to rest."
Perhaps we have been spoiled by the action Santa Cruz has given us over his last four fights where he averaged 106 punches thrown per round. CompuBox ShoStats show that he averaged "only" 82 punches thrown per round against Guevara, landing a total of 291 of 989 and 210 of his 560 power shots. Not bad activity for someone who could not breathe for nine rounds, had a sore right hand, was in his fifth fight of the year and was last in the ring a mere 35 days ago.
While classy of Santa Cruz, his apology is unnecessary. He faced a difficult and determined opponent, yet made the required adjustments to overcome the challenge and impose his will. This is something that is important for his rise up the ranks and makes him an even more compelling fighter to watch in the future, especially if he moves up to super bantamweight where the likes of Abner Mares, Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux currently reside.
An apology is due, however, to those who tuned in to watch the pro debut of 2012 Olympian Joseph Diaz Jr. This scheduled televised co-feature had to be scrapped due to the overtime broadcast of the college basketball game between Butler and Indiana. Diaz defeated Vicente Alfaro via four-round decision, with fellow 2012 Olympians Marcus Browne (KO-1 over Ritchie Cherry) and Errol Spence (TKO-3 over Richard Andrews) also victorious.
Alas, that is a small price to pay to have live boxing return to free network television where a good, young fighter like Santa Cruz can be given a platform to develop a fan base while also helping to rebuild the sport.
Instead of Santa Cruz apologizing to us, we should be thanking him.
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