Leo "El Terremoto" Santa Cruz and Kiko "Sensacion" Martinez went face-to-face yesterday at the final press conference before their featherweight world title showdown tomorrow night, Saturday, February 27th, live on SHOWTIME.
Santa Cruz, a three-division champion, will be making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title in this fight. In his last, and by far toughest, title fight in August against Abner Mares, he won by a majority decision to keep his undefeated record of 31-0-1, with 17 knockouts, in tact.
Leo is trained by his father, Jose and older brother Antonio, both of whom grew up with boxing in their blood but had their dreams deferred in order to work and help support the once impecunious Santa Cruz family.
Realizing that his promising career will one day come to an end down the road, Santa Cruz has borrowed from the blueprints of fighters like Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather in opening his own promotion company.
His opponent, Kiko Martinez, will walk into the ring with a record of 35-6, with 26 knockouts. Santa Cruz acknowledges that he will not be an easy opponent. But if he impresses as the main headliner, after years of being a featured fighter on some big undercards, he's got his eyes set on the best fighters in the division, including Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, Vasyl Lomachenko, Gary Russell Jr. and former champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.
"Headlining a televised card has been my childhood dream," Santa Cruz said at yesterday's press conference. "I could have never imagined I was going to get this far. And here I am, on my second main event, defending my title on a premium network. I'm so psyched. I cannot believe it. I remember watching all the great Mexican Champions and daydreaming about being like them one day. It felt unreachable. I thought it was impossible to get where they were. But I worked hard, really hard from the beginning."
He insists that he's not listening to those who say he's going to walk straight through Martinez en route to some of the biggest and best fights to come in the division.
Martinez, who will have highly respected Southern California trainer Robert Garcia in his corner for this fight, doesn't want to hear anything about his losing to Santa Cruz being a foregone conclusion.
"I have faced much stronger boxers than Leo and come Saturday, all of those who did bet on me for this fight, I am going to make you a lot of money," Martinez said at yesterday's press conference. "I feel that Leo Santa Cruz is a great fighter, he has beat some incredible fighters. He's a great athlete and boxer. Sometimes people will try to make him out to be more than he actually is but they are mistaken with what they see in me. I am not to be mistaken as the underdog here."
The Shadow League sat down last week with the champion, the man known as "El Terremoto", which translates to "The Earthquake" in English, to talk about this upcoming fight, his family and the vision for the future.
The Shadow League: How old were you when you started boxing?
Leo Santa Cruz: I was eight years old, about to turn nine.
TSL: What was it like seeing your older brothers come home with their boxing trophies when you were little, and how that impacted your dreams?
LSC: I wanted to be just like them and win those trophies and medals too. I wanted to go to the gym, train and learn how to fight like them. They were great role models that made me want to get into boxing.
TSL: So you start boxing at eight and nine years old and a mere six years later, you won the Gold Medal at the World Amateur Championships. What was that like, being so young and winning a Gold Medal on a global stage?
LSC: That felt great! To win a Gold medal is unbelievable. I never thought I'd be able to do something like that. It was really hard. I was always in the gym training. But I did it.
TSL: How did your family's struggles when you were younger inspire you as a fighter?
LSC: They helped me so much. I saw my parents struggling and when I decided to go into boxing, I knew that it was now or never in terms of being able to change my family's fortunes. I wanted to be somebody and didn't want to suffer the way my parents suffered. They were working hard jobs and getting paid very little. I didn't want to go through that.
It made me really want to work hard and dedicate myself to boxing. I began to focus on one thing, becoming a world champion. Everything that I saw growing up, I didn't want that for my family and my own kids.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
TSL: You've said that sometimes you guys didn't have furniture or any food, that your parents had to borrow money sometimes for something to eat or to put some gas in the car. When you're exhausted in training and don't feel like working anymore, do you think about those days?
LSC: Of course. I think about my kids and I think about everything we went through. I don't ever want them to know what it feels like to be hungry, to have to borrow money to get something to eat, or to have to ride the bus because we can't afford to put gas in the car.
TSL: Speaking of struggle, I know that one of the toughest things for you has been your brother Roberto's struggle with the potentially life-threatening disease Lupus. How does that affect you, not only as a fighter, but as a person and a brother?
LSC: Lupus is a bad disease. You never know what can happen. Some people die from it. It's one of the things that scares me. I was always worried since we first found out about it. Sometimes I'd be in the gym and couldn't concentrate because I was so worried about him. Thank God, he hasn't been in the hospital in two years. So, I'm able to concentrate and not worry right now. I'm very thankful that he's been healthy over the last couple of years.
TSL: Outside of your dad and your brothers, who were the fighters that you looked up to?
LSC: Julio Caesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya. Chavez was a Mexican warrior who was undefeated through so many fights. The people loved him. He came forward relentlessly while working the body. My dad always taught me to fight like that.
Oscar won the Gold Medal at the Olympics. He was a great fighter who could also box and he was a Mexican that grew up here in the United States. I could relate to that and I liked how he fought.
TSL: You're known for coming forward, having a tight defense and throwing punches in heavy volume to the head and the body. Do you see some stylistic similarities in terms of incorporating Oscar and Chavez's styles?
LSC: Yeah, I always studied and practiced their styles. My dad always told me that no matter how strong a fighter is, if you hit them repeatedly in the body, they'll go down. I'm always looking to land that tough body shot while I'm coming forward. And if I have to, I can box like Oscar as well while moving in different directions. But overall, I love brawling because that's what the fans want.
TSL: In the Abner Mares fight, where you surprised a lot of people who didn't think you were ready for that top level of competition, you stayed in the pocket and landed some relentless combinations. How did the experience of that fight help you?
LSC: When I fight against better competition, the better I fight. They bring out the best in me. I want to fight the best because that forces me to bring everything I have. With Mares, I had to fight, box, stand toe-to-toe and move around. We know how to do everything. I don't just have to brawl, which is what I like to do. I'll do what I have to do to win the fight.
I can box, I know how to measure my opponent and fight from a distance. I know to fight lefty and how to move laterally. I can take my time and don't always have to be on top of a guy and kill myself with throwing punches. I can fight a bunch of different ways. I like my style of coming forward, but when it's necessary, I'll show that I have those other skills.
TSL: You said that Kiko Martinez is an excellent opponent in terms of giving the fans a great fight. What is it about him that makes this such a nice recipe for a great fight?
LSC: He comes to fight and never backs down. He's strong and he never steps back. He's going to come straight at me while throwing power punches. It's going to be a toe-to-toe war in the middle of the ring.
TSL: Inside of boxing circles, for the past five years or so, you've been recognized as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. What is it going to take for the casual fans of the sport to recognize the same thing?
LSC: I'm going to have to fight and beat the biggest names in the division like Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, Vasyl Lomachenko, Gary Russell Jr. and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Once we beat them, we'll move up. I want titles at 130 pounds, 135 and 140 as well.
TSL: You've been on the undercards of some big promotions over the years. This is your second time as the main headliner. What does that feel like?
LSC: It's a great experience but it comes with a lot of pressure. Hopefully, a lot of people show up and watch on Showtime and they can gain a greater appreciation for how I fight. I'm going to leave everything in the ring and show the fans that I'm there to fight. I'm going to give them their money's worth so they'll want to continue to support me.
TSL: You recently opened up your own gym in California, as well as starting your own company, "Last Round Promotions." What was the thought process behind those moves?
LSC: A lot of kids are wasting away on the street, doing drugs or being involved with gangs. The gym can keep them away from that if they have an interest in sports or boxing. It's a place for them to learn and grow. The benefits go beyond the actual boxing. But if they're good and make the necessary commitment, they might also become a world champion like I did.
In terms of Last Round Promotions, we want to stay in the boxing business after I retire one day. We love the sport so much, we want to help fighters and give them the exposure that will help maximize what they can accomplish.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
TSL: You just don't fight for yourself, you fight for your mom and your dad, your brothers, your family, your children. What has boxing meant to you and how has it helped your family to realize the American Dream?
LSC: Boxing has meant everything to us. We have everything we need now and everything we've ever dreamed of. Without boxing, we'd be working hard jobs for very little money, struggling to make ends meet. We don't have to suffer anymore the way that we suffered when I was growing up.
TSL: Is there anything else that you want to say before we wrap up?
LSC: I just want to thank my fans for their continuing support. Because of them, I am where I am today. I just want to give 100% so they can watch this fight and then go home happy. I'm going to put on a great show, and continue to train hard so I can continue to give them great fights in the future.