WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) successfully defended his title as he won a hard-fought unanimous decision over a very game Rafael Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs) of Tijuana, Mexico, who came to fight Saturday night at the Microsoft Theater at L.A.
All three judges scored the bout 119-109 for Santa Cruz, who threw 1,350 punches, the second most of his career.
“I want to fight the best,” he said afterward. “I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or have a third fight with Carl Frampton. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division.”
It was a feel out round in the first as Santa Cruz and Rivera felt each other out popping the jab, then finished the round strong. Things picked up in round two as Rivera and Santa Cruz let their hands go. Exchanging on the inside in round three, Rivera and Santa Cruz continued to let their hands go. Santa Cruz began to dig to the body in the fourth as he connected Rivera with a few solid left hooks to the body but Rivera held his own mixing it up.
Mixing it up inside in the fifth both Santa Cruz and Rivera continued to brawl as they had the crowd on their feet. At the halfway point in round six Santa Cruz did not take a step back attacking inside but Rivera hung in there as he returned the favor connecting the champ with solid punches. Past the halfway point in the seventh, Santa Cruz stalked as Rivera began fighting off his back foot. Santa Cruz began to take over late in the fight in the eight as he pressed Rivera but there was no quitting in the Tijuana fighter.
Late in the fight in the ninth round, the champ continued to press but there was no quitting in Rivera as he exchanged and mix it up with Santa Cruz. The tenth saw Rivera and Santa Cruz continuing to mix it up on the inside as neither took a step back. The champ Santa Cruz did not take his foot of the gas pedal as he continued to work in the championship rounds but Rivera kept coming making the most of it. The twelfth and final round was all action as Santa Cruz looked to secure it staying busy with Rivera giving the champ all he can handle in trading away to the final bell.