LOS ANGELES — It is no shock that Leo Santa Cruz opted to not disparage his opponent, Miguel Flores, when the 2 met Thursday afternoon on the Conga Room in downtown Los Angeles. Santa Cruz defends his WBA featherweight title towards the long-odds underdog Flores within the Feb. 16 essential occasion of a Fox-televised card that can happen strolling distance away on the Microsoft Theater.

Santa Cruz is considered one of boxing’s premier good guys. He treats all of his opponents with respect and says he’ll put together for Flores as if he is getting ready for a world-beater. Flores has misplaced two of his final three fights to gatekeeper-level opponents and is unanimously thought-about in over his head towards the three-division champion, however Santa Cruz sees Flores as step one towards cementing his legacy as among the finest Mexican fighters to emerge up to now few many years.

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“I wished a unification towards Oscar Valdez [or] Gary Russell [Jr.]. [Carl] Frampton was going to combat towards [Josh] Warrington so I could not get that combat,” Santa Cruz informed Sporting Information. “I stated the winner I might combat however I wished to combat earlier than so [Flores] was the opponent that was supplied to me. I wished to combat already, I simply fought one time final 12 months. However hopefully, I get this win over Miguel Flores and produce the unifications.”

Santa Cruz turned 30 in August, two months after beating Abner Mares for the second time at Staples Middle. He kicked off the earlier 12 months avenging his solely loss by profitable an in depth bout towards Frampton, then waited 9 months to combat fringe contender Chris Avalos, who beat Flores in a wonky combat July 2017 as a result of physician stopping the combat on cuts. As with NFL operating backs, hitting 30 often brings a steep decline for fighters within the decrease weight lessons, however Santa Cruz nonetheless feels he is among the finest fighters within the sport.

Santa Cruz is intent on preventing thrice in 2019 and says he has been promised that by his handlers. With Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions touchdown offers with each Fox and Showtime — and now ITV within the UK — it appears Haymon is more likely to ship on that promise. That has been the one knock towards Santa Cruz throughout his profession, that he hasn’t been energetic sufficient and that when he has, he generally has been in towards guys who’re method overmatched. 

If 2019 goes as deliberate, it’s going to be a very powerful 12 months of Santa Cruz’s profession. There are simple fights to make, with fellow featherweight titleholder Russell below the banner of PBC. Josh Warrington simply beat Frampton and is promoted by Frank Warren, who has an excellent relationship with PBC, having made the combat between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury final month.

“I used to be already informed I used to be going to get at the least three fights in 2019,” Santa Cruz stated. “After this combat, I stated I wished to unify and so they informed me, yeah, that I might unify. There’s going to be unifications — it might be possibly towards Josh Warrington, Gary Russell. It do not matter. Whoever it’s, I simply need to unify.”

Russell is the antithesis to Santa Cruz. He appears content material preventing simply every year, which he has achieved relationship to 2015. In an October interview with RingTV, Russell indicated he is within the last levels of his profession with possibly three years left. Like Santa Cruz, Russell is 30, however due to his inactivity and preventing type, he has taken a lot much less punishment than Santa Cruz has.

“I do not know why he does not need to combat extra instances a 12 months,” Santa Cruz informed Sporting Information. “For a fighter like me, if I might combat 4 instances a 12 months I might be glad. The extra I combat, the higher for me as a result of I might be getting my document up, I might be unifying, I might be including extra belts and it is extra publicity.”

Santa Cruz needs the Russell combat and would contemplate it the most important combat of his profession.

“Lots of people contemplate Gary Russell among the finest within the division, possibly the very best, possibly even higher than me,” Santa Cruz stated. “I feel it might be the very best combat that would occur.”

Every week earlier than Santa Cruz and Flores are slated to combat, former Santa Cruz foe Mares will face rising expertise Gervonta Davis in an intriguing matchup up the road on the StubHub Middle on Showtime. Santa Cruz sees a transfer to 130 kilos in his future and a matchup with Davis being a doubtlessly main matchup.

“I need to be a four-division champion,” Santa Cruz informed Sporting Information. “I have been a three-division world champion. Hopefully [I’ll] unify the 126[-pound] division after which I need to transfer as much as 130 and carry on rising my legacy. I need to be remembered as among the finest in boxing.”

Santa Cruz’s father, Jose, sees a matchup with Davis down the street and particularly needs that combat for his son.

“He is been telling me, you may unify at 126 but when the fights cannot get made, transfer as much as 130,” Santa Cruz informed Sporting Information. “Search for one other title, and he says a combat towards Gervonta Davis goes to be actually huge and I see the identical factor.”

Expectations are excessive for Santa Cruz as 2019 begins. He has to get previous Flores in February, but when he does that as anticipated, the most important fights of his profession will probably be inside his grasp.

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