Santa Cruz hears the criticism
Not too long ago, Leo Santa Cruz – who defends his WBC 122-pound title tonight against Jesus Ruiz – was one of the most popular young boxers in the world. He had a fan-friendly style, was active (fighting five times back in 2012) and had a humble demeanor.
Fast forward to 2015 and visit Twitter or any other social media platform and you’ll see Santa Cruz is derided rather relentlessly. If it’s not for facing soft opposition (case in point: This weekend’s foe is listed as a 50-1 underdog), it’s a response to his flip-flopping comments on ever facing the difficult Guillermo Rigondeaux or his loyalty to Al Haymon, of all things.
Santa Cruz admits to hearing it.
“Yeah, of course because they’re saying I’m afraid of Rigondeaux,” he said last week at his media day at the Who’s Next Boxing Academy in City of Industry. “They want me to fight him, then why not fight the best? I’m just doing my job. I’m always here training and I don’t pick my opponents. I just take whoever opponent they give me. I say, ‘Yes, that’s what I’m here to do: Fight.’ But yeah, I do want Rigondeaux.
“A lot of people are disappointed because I didn’t fight Rigondeaux and I want to do it as soon as possible so all those people can be happy.”
Santa Cruz though has made conflicting remarks within weeks of one another in terms of his willingness to face the Cuban, which has maddened the public. Also frustrating the masses is that Santa Cruz, a shy and reserved individual by nature, has simply been too compliant in taking orders from the higher-ups and not taking control of his own career (and let’s be honest; would Haymon really green light a bout versus Rigondeaux?)
That said, does the backlash get to him? “Of course it does bother me,” Santa Cruz admitted. “We’re here for the fans. We fight for them. We try to give them great fights, so we always try to give the fans what they want and they want me against Rigondeaux so we gotta try and make that fight as soon as possible and I’m going to push it, push it to see if they can make it.”
Again, in the past, Santa Cruz has stated he “obeys” Haymon. And speaking of Haymon, there’s a segment of the fans who have made this guilt by mere association with the influential adviser, believing he overprotects his clients while preventing attractive bouts from taking place. Of course, now with this new NBC deal, when he’s spending his own money (or his investors), that seems to have changed. But like Peter Quillin and Andre Berto, being the beneficiary of Haymon’s largesse has come at a price for Santa Cruz.
“A lot of people don’t like Al Haymon but if they knew him, they would know what kind of person he is. He’s a really great guy, a great person. All he wants is the best for his fighters. He tries to protect the fighters,” explained Santa Cruz, who makes a valid point: Haymon’s job is to protect his boxers, minimize their risk while maximizing their earnings. But that agenda doesn’t always serve the fans who just really only care about the actual fights they get to see.
What has raised the ire of some fans is that Santa Cruz even named his newborn son after Haymon. Yeah, that never happened with Shelly Finkel or Cameron Dunkin.
“Personally, he’s great, like for any trouble, anything. When I needed him, he was there for me. I call him; some managers don’t even pick up. He answers right away when I call him; always picks up. He’s always there for me and he’s always helping me, supporting me and that’s why he got me to this place. Before I signed with him, like, we still suffered. We went through a lot of things and since I signed with him, everything went great and he’s been helping me out a lot. All my family is grateful to him,” said Santa Cruz.
Haymon reportedly bought the Santa Cruz family a big home. See, this is why fighters thank him so profusely. C’mon, can you blame them? “He’s a great manager for my brother; he’s one of the best right now,” said his brother, Jose Armando Santa Cruz, a former lightweight contender. “Like, a lot of people want him to fight ‘Rigo,’ so there’s a lot of criticism because he didn’t take that fight and he’s taking a lot of heat.”
The older brother added, “[Haymon’s] a great friend. So right now, my brother does whatever Al Haymon tells him to do, fighting-wise. So he listens to him. He’s not going to go fight whoever the fans are telling him to fight, so he has to listen to his corner and his manager.”
When asked if he wished that he had a Haymon during his days as a fighter, Jose admitted, “For reals, I do. I wish I had, maybe things would’ve been different. But things worked out with my brother, so I’m happy for him.” Santa Cruz’s father, who also trains his son, said simply, “Since day one, when we go with Al Haymon, our lives changed. Everything’s been great.”
The fight with Ruiz – where he is receiving a purse of $750,000 (again, thanks Al!) – should be a lay-up. The public is very forgiving in this regard: Participate in anticipated match-ups and perform well, most everything will be forgiven if not forgotten.
So what’s in store for 2015?
“Bigger fights,” stated Santa Cruz. “I want the big fights against the ones the fans want: [Abner] Mares, Rigondeaux, [Carl] Frampton, [Scott] Quigg. We’re going to push the promoters and managers into making those fights because I want them. The fans want them and what I want to do is please the fans.
“Fight the best.”
Here’s the latest episode of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly:
Not only have ticket sales been putrid for this weekend’s bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, they also had a rather sparse media turn-out, from what I’m told…I got Stiverne by mid-to-late round KO…My understanding is that negotiations between Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez are ongoing but “Canelo” is getting more than a bit antsy… Lou DiBella informed me on Friday evening that “Swanny,” the wife of Jimmy Glenn, owner of Jimmy’s Corner in New York City, passed away. She was an institution at that place and will be missed greatly…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at http://twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at http://instagram.com/steveucnlive and I now can also be found at www.tsu.co/steveucnlive.