Cancer-fighting dad inspires Santa Cruz in featherweight title showdown

AFP
WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, at left against Abner Mares, puts his title at risk Saturday against fellow Mexican Rafael Rivera (AFP Photo/Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, at left against Abner Mares, puts his title at risk Saturday against fellow Mexican Rafael Rivera

WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, at left against Abner Mares, puts his title at risk Saturday against fellow Mexican Rafael Rivera (AFP Photo/Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

Los Angeles (AFP) - World Boxing Association featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz defends his crown Saturday against fellow Mexican Rafael Rivera while taking inspiration from his father's ongoing fight against cancer.

Santa Cruz, 35-1-1 with 19 knockouts, will face Rivera, 26-2-2 with 17 knockouts, in the feature of a Los Angeles card with Rivera as a late fill-in for original challenger Miguel Flores, lost to an ankle injury last month.

Santa Cruz is being trained by his father, Jose Santa Cruz, who is fighting multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

"Seeing my dad going through cancer treatment has been very tough," Santa Cruz said. "He motivates me to go to the gym and train hard, because I know if he sees me working hard, it will motivate him as well.

"Sometimes when my dad is having tough days dealing with the cancer, I want to stay at home with him, but he tells me to go to the gym and train hard. So I tell him that we're going to work hard for him. We both motivate each other."

If he wins, Santa Cruz wants a unification bout against American Gary Russell Jr., the World Boxing Council champion, or a third career matchup against Britain's Carl Frampton.

Santa Cruz suffered his only career loss in 2016 to the Northern Ireland fighter but avenged the defeat in early 2017 to reclaim the WBA crown, which he now defends for a third time in this reign.

"Gary Russell Jr. is the fight that I want. He beat me in the amateurs, but in the pros I get 12 rounds. I think that I can beat him," Santa Cruz said.

"We want to unify the belts or make the third fight against Carl Frampton. If not, we will go to 130 pounds and seek a title in a new weight class."

Rivera enters after losses to Americans Joseph Diaz and Joet Gonzalez, the first of his career, and a knockout win over Mexico's Jose Ramos last October in his most recent fight.

"I've stepped in late before to a big fight. I'm always ready when it comes. Expect a surprise come Saturday night," Rivera said.

What to Read Next