Santa Cruz keeps featherweight title by unanimous decision

Los Angeles – Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz defended his World Boxing Association featherweight title on Saturday, dominating compatriot Rafael Rivera to win by unanimous 12-round decision.

All three judges gave Santa Cruz the victory by scores of 119-109 as the champion improved to 36-1-1, marking the third defense in his second reign in the division.

“I tried to give my best. I did what I could,” Santa Cruz said. “I’d like to give a lot better but Rafael is pretty good. It was a tough fight.”

Santa Cruz took inspiration from his father and trainer Jose Santa Cruz, who is battling bone marrow cancer.

“It means the world to me (to have my father in my corner),” Santa Cruz said. “When I climb in the ring, I don’t want to let my dad down. I want to inspire him to keep fighting the cancer.”

Rivera, who fell to 26-3 with two drawn, was a late fill-in for his first world title bout after original challenger Miguel Flores suffered an ankle injury last month.

Santa Cruz worked on Rivera’s body from the opening round, delivering punishment at a fast pace in the early rounds while defending well to masterfully frustrate the challenger.

Rivera tagged Santa Cruz with a right to the head to end the 11th round, drawing only a smile from the champion, who stayed in control through a furious exchange in the closing seconds.

Santa Cruz seeks 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.

“I want to unify the belts,” Santa Cruz said. “I want to fight three times this year, hopefully by June or July.”

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