Leo Santa Cruz fights to win father's pride

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Leo Santa Cruz loves his father and he loves boxing. But sometimes, he said laughingly, his father's passion for the sport is too much even for him.

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Leo Santa Cruz will defend his IBF bantamweight title against Alberto Guevara. (Getty Images)

Leo Santa Cruz is the IBF bantamweight champion and will defend his title Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena against Alberto Guevara.

The bout will be televised on CBS beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET, marking the network's first live boxing broadcast in more than 15 years.

Santa Cruz is one of the sport's bright young stars and Golden Boy Promotions wisely carved out the high-profile spot to serve as a jumping-off point for him heading to 2013.

"Leo Santa Cruz is really a rising star," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said. "People who have seen him love his style and love his personality. I think the sky is the limit for him, but we need more people to be aware of him. He's kind of like boxing's best-kept secret, but it shouldn't be secret any more. That's why we're doing this."

Santa Cruz wouldn't even be in boxing were it not for his father, Jose, a painter who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. From the moment Jose Santa Cruz saw his first boxing match, he was hooked.

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There was something about the sport that captivated him, and he couldn't quit talking about it or watching it.

"It's something we do together and that's great," Leo Santa Cruz said of boxing. "My dad just loves it so much. He comes home and he's talking boxing. It's nonstop. Sometimes, we want to talk about something else and we have to get away from him."

Jose Santa Cruz watched the fights and studied closely what the top boxers did. He'd then take his son to a ring and teach him.

The results have been astounding, particularly for someone who wasn't a lifer in the sport. Jose Santa Cruz has proven to be an outstanding coach and his son is already one of the best technical fighters in the business.

"You look at the combinations he throws and the way he puts his punches together and there just aren't a lot of guys out there doing that these days," said Don Chargin, a Hall of Fame matchmaker and promoter who serves as an adviser to Golden Boy. "He is an exceptionally talented young man and he has clearly been taught very well."

Santa Cruz figures to be in the hunt for the 2012 Fighter of the Year award, though he's unlikely to win it. He's 3-0 in 2012 and is heavily favored to defeat Guevara to go to 4-0. However, Santa Cruz hasn't faced the same level of competition as some of the other contenders, such as Nonito Donaire, Juan Manuel Marquez, Danny Garcia, Brian Viloria and Robert Guerrero.

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Few of them, though, are as technically sound as Santa Cruz, nor do they have the kind of body attack he does.

"He invests in those body shots," De La Hoya said. "Going to the body is a lost art and what he does inside that ring, he throws some paralyzing body shots. It's tremendous, a thing of beauty. He looks like an old-school fighter the way he goes body, body, body."

De La Hoya opted to give the tickets away for the Santa Cruz card as part of a holiday gift, giving Los Angeles-area fans the opportunity to see one of the sport's rising stars for free.

Santa Cruz understands the significance of Saturday's events, as he knows many more fans will get a chance to see him than ever before.

He wants to impress, but there's one person he wants to impress more than the others. When he won the belt in June, he wept in the ring with his father after being presented the belt.

He's going to try to hold back any tears on Saturday, but it means a lot for him to perform for his father.

"There is no way I can repay him for what he has done for me," Santa Cruz said. "I know how much he loves boxing, and so the best thing I can do is go out and give the kind of performance that makes him proud. If I do that, I know I'll be successful."

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