Leo Santa Cruz heads into Gervonta Davis bout missing key component to his success

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

Life, at least superficially, is great for Leo Santa Cruz. He holds a world title, the WBA super featherweight championship, the fourth division in which he’s been a champion. Previously, he owned title belts as a featherweight, a super bantamweight and a bantamweight.

He has a beautiful young daughter whom he obviously adores and dotes on constantly. The white Lamborghini he drives is evidence of the financial success he’s had in the boxing business.

But as he prepares to face Gervonta Davis on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV) at the Alamodome in San Antonio for both his title and Davis’ WBA “regular” lightweight title, there is something missing.

He went through a portion of his training camp without his father, Jose, who had been hospitalized with a sepsis infection. Jose, who previously fought cancer, was replaced by Leo’s brother, Antonio, as his trainer.

The relationship between Leo and Jose has long been tight, and in 2016 when he lost his only pro fight to Carl Frampton, Jose was at home battling cancer.

Leo has a tattoo of his father on his upper left arm, a constant reminder of his motivation for fighting.

He’s nothing, though, if not an optimist, and he insists that despite the scares in camp, he’s primed for a brilliant performance in a career that has been filled with them.

He’s not often mentioned when the great fighters of his era are listed, but that’s more due to his humble and unassuming nature rather than a lack of talent. He’s 37-1-1 with 19 KOs, has won titles in four weight divisions and could add a fifth if he defeats Davis and captures the lightweight belt.

He’ll probably have to wait until after he retires and is elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame to be truly appreciated.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 09: L-R: Antonio Santa Cruz,  Leo Santa Cruz holding his son Al Santa Cruz and his dad Jose Santa Cruz celebrate the defeat of Abner Mares (not pictured) in the WBA Featherweight Title & WBC Diamond Title fight at Staples Center on June 9, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Santa Cruz won by decision.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Leo Santa Cruz (C) will have his brother Antonio Santa Cruz (L) in his corner while his dad Jose Santa Cruz (R) battles an illness. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Ever the happy warrior, he is not concerned about Davis possibly missing weight — given two belts are at stake, the fighters have to make the lighter weight, at 130, for it to be for both — or his father’s absence. He’s been at it long enough that he’s learned how to separate the personal from the professional.

“I feel really great,” he said. “This camp has been perfect. I feel strong and I’m very motivated. My Dad and my brothers have been helping me out. It’s really the best camp I've had and I’m in the best shape of my career.”

Santa Cruz adjusting to Davis’ size

He’ll need to be in the best shape he’s been in, because he’s never fought anyone like Davis, who is 23-0 with 22 knockouts and possesses that rare kind of power that can stop a man dead in his tracks with one punch.

Promoter Leonard Ellerbe acknowledged Davis’ power, but insisted anyone who thinks Davis will simply run over Santa Cruz is badly misguided.

“Leo has fought everyone and when has anyone ever done that to him?” Ellerbe asked rhetorically. “This fight is one that Leo wanted. He knows what Tank is all about and he thinks he can take advantage of him and beat him.”

Santa Cruz has excelled in the toe-to-toe slugfests that bring the fans out of their seats, and back to see him compete time after time. Against Davis, though, that’s a dangerous proposition because all it takes is one shot for the entire complexion of the fight to change.

To that end, Santa Cruz has brought in welterweights to spar with so he has a sense of the power he’ll be in for on Saturday.

“We have to fight from the outside because we know that Tank can hit,” said Santa Cruz, who is at his best at a distance but can be effective inside hooking to the body and throwing uppercuts to the head. “But I always try to give the fans a great fight, so there’s going to be times I’m going to brawl with him. We’re going to go back and forth. If I feel like I can take his punches, I’m going to be right in his face.”

Being busy and in his face could be a good thing, because Santa Cruz would be scoring. But it risks getting caught with a counter shot and the public perception is that Davis is not only the hard puncher, but the physically bigger guy.

But Antonio Santa Cruz said his brother has adjusted well to the heavier weight and he’s not concerned.

“Leo has brought his power up in weight with him,” Antonio said. “When he hits the mitts, I can feel the increased strength that he has. I think it’s going to help him in the ring because Gervonta is going to have to respect that power. Gervonta is a knockout artist, but of course I believe that Leo can take him.

“Leo is smart and so dedicated. He has the extra motivation in seeing our father still here fighting through his cancer. He see how strong he’s fighting and knows he can be strong enough to be Gervonta.”

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