Photo’s Lina Baker, Instagram @seeyouringside
Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1 18KO’s) needed an impressive win against Kiko Martinez (35-7 26KO’s) of Spain; and he got it in an action packed shootout that showed the smiling southern Californian dig deep and impose himself over an opponent that fought fire with fire.
Leading up to the fight, the idea in the media was that win or lose Santa Cruz would lose credibility if he didn’t look impressive given the idea that Martinez was a step backwards in opponent caliber following a victory over rival Abner Mares, who also is not the recognized, best fighter in the division.
The first round saw Santa Cruz launch out of his corner to score two quick knockdowns of the Spaniard, sending the pro Santa Cruz crowd into a frenzy. Martinez would not go away quietly and would rally to fire back with big shots in the second round. A right hand followed with a cuffing left hook would drop Santa Cruz. Referee Raul Caiz incorrectly ruled it a slip when the replay clearly showed Santa Cruz’s legs buckle after the initial blow.
Slip or not, it wouldn’t matter. Santa Cruz showed serious intestinal fortitude and wouldn’t be denied in his hometown. Taking control of the fight and winning the hellacious back and forth exchanges inside Santa Cruz would break down the Spaniard in a toe to toe battle that; in February, is a candidate for fight of the year. Santa Cruz rocked Martinez in the fifth and unloaded a long unanswered flurry of punches prompting referee Raul Caiz to jump in and save Martinez at 2:09 in the fifth round.
After the fight Santa Cruz said “The fans love it when two fighter’s go toe to toe”. On Kiko Martinez the smiling Santa Cruz said “He was like a bull coming forward really strong” adding “he has definitely one of the strongest fighters I have been in the ring with.” On future matchups Santa Cruz said “I want the rematch with Mares, since Carl Frampton won, if he’s ready to move up in weight I’m ready for him. I challenge him to a fight whenever he is ready.”
Santa Cruz threw an amazing 142 punches in the first round throwing a total of 570 compared to Martinez’s 468 for a total of 1038 in less than five complete rounds according to Compubox.
Opening the televised event was the rematch of the scintillating performance of Julio Ceja (30-2 27KO’s) against fellow Mexican countryman Hugo Ruiz (36-3 31KO’s), when Ceja would recover from being knocked to the canvas and rally to win by knockout.
This time there would be no rally, there would be nothing but a savage right hand landed by Ruiz and a flurry of punches to stop Ceja at 51 seconds in the first round. Ruiz landed 10 of 37 punches before the referee would jump in and stop the fight.
Ceja went down hard from an overhand right and had his ankle stuck in an awkward position that clearly looked painful. Following the fight Ceja left the ring with his leg stabilized and on a stretcher. Ruiz said “I was prepared to knock him out, but I was prepared to go twelve rounds tonight also if I had to.” “Ceja is a very good fighter and I know he’ll come back.”