WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz returns to the ring against replacement opponent Rafael Rivera on Saturday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in hopes of notching his third straight title defense.
The 30-year-old was originally supposed to face Miguel Flores in the main event of the PBC on Fox card but will now fight Rivera, 24, because Flores suffered an ankle injury during training.
Santa Cruz (35-1, 19 KOs) is one of the very best boxers in the world. He throws a high volume of punches but isn’t what most would consider just a pressure fighter. Instead, Santa Cruz is also a decent boxer who knows how to move around the ring and find his range using educated footwork.
While Santa Cruz is capable of stopping Rivera, he doesn’t quite possess the kind of one-punch knockout power that makes backing him that way a no-brainer. Santa Cruz is more of a volume puncher, and, on top of all that, he doesn’t usually connect on his punches as clean as one would like.
Ranked No. 1 at 126 pounds by The Ring, Santa Cruz is riding a three-fight win streak since suffering his only loss, a majority decision to Carl Frampton in 2016. He won the rematch the following year by majority decision and won his next two fights even more convincingly.
Santa Cruz stopped Chris Avalos in 2017 and defeated crosstown rival Abner Mares by unanimous decision last year in the rematch of their epic 2015 encounter which Santa Cruz also won.
Rivera, on the other hand, is a rugged fighter but one who isn’t ranked among the top 10 in his weight class and has no world title experience.
At just 24 years old, Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) might still be improving as a fighter, but how much he has improved and if he has improved enough to seriously compete with a fighter as talented and accomplished as Santa Cruz remains to be seen.
There’s a reason Santa Cruz was as high as a -10000 favorite when the fight against Rivera was announced.
He enjoys all the competitive advantages and is the promotional favorite as well, meaning that even if Rivera somehow made the fight competitive on the scorecards, the judges would most likely hand the fight to Santa Cruz anyway.
Backing Santa Cruz to win by any method at -5000 is the safest bet. While Rivera is tough and might win some rounds, he can’t really hope to seriously compete with Santa Cruz unless the latter comes into the fight unfocused or having hid some kind of injury.
Pinpointing a more valuable bet might look something like betting Santa Cruz via points at -265 with Karamba. Rivera isn’t the same quality of fighter as Santa Cruz, but he has gone the distance in his two losses against Joseph Diaz and Joet Gonzalez.
Moreover, Santa Cruz isn’t really a knockout artist. Instead, he tends to wear his opponents out over time, and he usually only knocks out fighters who probably shouldn’t be in the ring with him in the first place.
While it could be argued Rivera is such a fighter, it’s also true he’s shown some quality already in his career, and that when he was announced as the replacement for Flores a few weeks ago, many insiders were happy because they considered Rivera the better fighter.
If the Total Rounds or Fight to Go the Distance market is more your style, bet over 9.5 rounds at -335 with 888Sport and Yes to the latter at -278 with Betfair, because headed into the fight, Santa Cruz-Rivera has the look and feel of a bout destined to go all 12 rounds.
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