Santa Cruz de­fends, eyes Mares, Framp­ton

The Freeman - - SPORTS -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Mex­ico's Leo Santa Cruz de­fends his World Box­ing As­so­ci­a­tion featherweight ti­tle Satur­day against Amer­i­can Chris Ava­los with an eye to­ward a pos­si­ble cham­pi­onship re­match next year against coun­try­man Ab­ner Mares.

Santa Cruz, 33-1-1 with 18 knock­outs, meets Ava­los, 27-5 with 20 knock­outs, in the main event at Car­son, Cal­i­for­nia, with Mares, 30-2 with one drawn and 15 knock­outs, fac­ing fel­low Mex­i­can An­dres Gu­tier­rez, 35-1-1, on the card as well.

If Santa Cruz and Mares win, they have agreed to terms for a muchan­tic­i­pated re­match for the 126pound crown early next year. Santa Cruz edged Mares by ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion in 2015 for the same ti­tle.

"Hope­fully I can come out vic­to­ri­ous and then face all of the big names," Santa Cruz said. "I want to re­match Mares and Carl Framp­ton then unify the di­vi­sion. I'm go­ing to be ready to face any­one."

Bri­tain's Framp­ton, a 30-year-old from North­ern Ire­land, took the ti­tle from Santa Cruz last year in New York but lost a Jan­uary re­match in Las Ve­gas. Framp­ton is set for his first fight since that loss next month in Belfast.

Ri­val featherweight cham­pi­ons in­clude Bri­tain's Lee Selby (25-1 with nine knock­outs) with the In­ter­na­tional Box­ing Fed­er­a­tion ti­tle and Amer­i­can Gary Rus­sell (28-1 with 17 knock­outs) with the World Box­ing Coun­cil crown.

In his first bout since re­claim­ing the throne, Santa Cruz meets a chal­lenger who dropped three of four bouts be­fore stop­ping Miguel Flores in July.

"I want to get in there and test my body and see how I feel head­ing into the big­ger fights in the fu­ture," Santa Cruz said. "A lot of peo­ple think this will be easy for me, but I don't see it that way.

"Chris Ava­los is a tough fighter. He has 20 knock­outs so I'm not go­ing to un­der­es­ti­mate him. Up there in the ring any­thing can hap­pen. I'm go­ing to be smart, be pa­tient and do what I have to do to win the fight."

Ava­los was stopped by Framp­ton in 2015 at Belfast for the IBF su­per ban­tamweight crown in his only prior world ti­tle fight.

"I'm ready for this bat­tle," Ava­los said. "This is go­ing to be a war. I like go­ing toe-to-toe and so does he. I'm go­ing to bring the best. It is go­ing to be a fight to re­mem­ber."

Mares, 31, will have only his sec­ond bout since los­ing to Santa Cruz more than two years ago.

"I just want any cham­pion, but ob­vi­ously there's a key and the fighter to fight will be Leo af­ter Gu­tier­rez," Mares said. "Any or­der, Leo, Framp­ton, Gary Rus­sell. That could to­tally be my ca­reer right there."

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