Featherweights Kiko Martinez and Leo Santa Cruz threw more than 1,000 punches in less than five rounds in Anaheim on Saturday. Unfortunately for Martinez, Santa Cruz’s were harder.
From the beginning, Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KO) looked enormous next to his diminutive Spanish opponent, who was fighting at the 126 pound limit for just the second time. For a while it looked like Martinez (35-7-0, 26 KO) wasn’t even going to make it out of the 1st round, as Santa Cruz knocked him down twice; first with a right behind the ear and then again on a straight right set up by a huge left hook.
The hard-headed Martinez would not be discouraged, however, and roared out of the blocks in the 2nd, cuffing Santa Cruz to the ground with a left hook (it was ruled a slip) and generally getting up in his business.
For the remainder of the fight Martinez was always forcing the action, but it was Santa Cruz scoring with the harder shots, snapping back the head of “La Sensacion.” By the 3rd Santa Cruz’s nose was bloody and at times he looked slightly uncomfortable with the seemingly immovable object standing in front of him. When “El Terremoto” got space, though, he did damage, and Martinez couldn’t stake a realistic claim to any round.
The end came in the 5th, when Santa Cruz caught Martinez with a right uppercut and forced him into the corner with a series of one-twos. For a while Martinez was punching back, but Santa Cruz cranked up the volume, throwing dozens and dozens of punches. It’s a neat trick if you’ve got the engine to pull it off and it forced referee Raul Caiz, Sr. to step in and halt the about at 2:05 of the 5th round.
Santa Cruz comes away with one of the most exciting divisions in the sport at his feet (as it was before this bout). His stock doesn’t particularly rise or fall, given that he was generally expected to make short work of Martinez. From here Carl Frampton, who also won today, is a possibility, as is the winner of Vasyl Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters if that fight it brought to Showtime. It seem unlikely he’ll face Guillermo Rigondeaux, given the Cuban’s risk-reward ratio and Santa Cruz’s fathers public distaste for the bout.
Martinez remains one tough nugget, despite now having been stopped twice in recent fights. He’ll likely return to Spain to nurse his wounds and get some easy wins under his belt, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in title contention soon.
On the undercard, junior featherweight Hugo Ruiz avenged his 2015 knockout loss to Julio Cesar Ceja in a flash, running out and knocking Ceja down with an enormous right hand before following up with a flurry of punches that forced the referee to intervene. All in all it lasted less than a minute. Ceja seemed to injure his right leg as he hit the canvas, though given the ferocity of Ruiz’s onslaught I doubt it was a decisive factor.
Image: Leo Santa Cruz reacts to his 5th round TKO of Kiko Martinez (Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)