Updated: Feb 16, 2019
WBA “super” featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz will defend his title against Rafael Rivera on Saturday, February 16th at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Rivera was penciled in to replace Santa Cruz’s original opponent Miguel Flores after the latter sustained an ankle injury during training. The bout will be televised on FOX in the USA.
Tale of the Tape – Santa Cruz vs. Rivera
|Leo Santa Cruz||Rafael Rivera|
|Record||35-1-1 (19 KOs)||26-2-2 (17 KOs)|
|Nickname||“El Terremoto”||“Big Bang”|
Fight Breakdown – Santa Cruz vs. Rivera
Three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz, who I have at #8 in my P4P rankings, really burst onto the international scene when he fought Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton back in 2016. Though he lost that fight (and his title) by majority decision, Santa Cruz displayed toughness and heart that had many fans wanting to see a rematch. “El Terremoto”, a volume puncher with a great chin and good boxing skills, was able to reclaim his WBA title in January of 2017 in the rematch with Frampton and has put on some good performances since.
Rafael Rivera is not a very well-known name even among boxing fans. His highest-profile fight was against Joseph Diaz on the Canelo vs. GGG undercard back in 2017. Rivera was outclassed by the skilled southpaw Diaz in that fight and suffered the first defeat of his pro career. Rivera would return to the ring against Joet Gonzalez but would lose a close split decision (though many thought he won). After those back-to-back losses, Rivera seems hungry and eager to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of the division. “Big Bang” possesses great hand speed and decent power but can get away from the jab at times and become predictable.
Against Santa Cruz, Rivera needs to use his jab more to set up his fast combinations. Swinging for the fences wildly is probably not the best bet against an opponent in Santa Cruz who has shown he can take a punch. For Santa Cruz, he should look to counter Rivera whenever possible and simply let his hands go (as he often does) on the inside where Rivera likes to work.
Also on the card, former WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr. (27-0-1) takes on John Molina Jr. (30-7) at welterweight. Carlos Licona (14-0) will defend his IBF minimumweight belt against DeeJay Kriel (14-1-1) on the night as well.
Prediction – Santa Cruz vs. Rivera
I predict a unanimous decision victory for Leo Santa Cruz. Rivera is a gifted young fighter but in my opinion needs a bit more experience before he is ready for elite level guys like Santa Cruz. If Santa Cruz shows up and does his thing, it should be a wide, clear win on the scorecards.
From what I have seen, Rivera is not a huge one-punch knockout type of fighter, so he will have to get creative (or get lucky) if he wants to win this fight. If there is an avenue to victory for Rivera, it will most likely be via knockout.
How much of a threat is Rafael Rivera for Leo Santa Cruz? Do you think Santa Cruz stops him? Comment below with your opinion.