SAN DIEGO, Calif., February 15, 2019 – Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) should send his Los Angeles fans home happy on Saturday as he makes the third defense of his WBA world featherweight title. Santa Cruz faces a last minute replacement in Rafael “Big Bang” Rivera of Mexico (26-2-2, 17 KOs), stepping in for Moises Flores who suffered an ankle injury in training.
Rivera scored a first round knockout in his last fight, but lost to well known Los Angeles fighters Joet Gonzalez and Joseph Diaz Jr. prior to the recent win. Rivera will give a good accounting of himself, and after last weekend’s upset win by Andrew Cancio over Alberto Machado, fans were reminded that anything can happen in boxing.
This is a cruise control fight for the champion. But Santa Cruz is showing the proper respect, saying of the swap “”I knew immediately that Rivera was a good opponent. He’s young and hungry, and that makes him dangerous. He can take punches, so we’re ready for 12 rounds. We’re going to be smart in this fight because we know what Rivera can do.”
Rivera is in the “nothing to lose” position with a tremendous opportunity for exposure win or lose and didn’t think twice about it. He took his fight against Diaz Jr. on short notice too. “I was training and ready, and I wanted this challenge,” said Rivera, age 24. “I’m here to make the most of it … I know that I have everything it takes to bring this title back to Tijuana. We’ve trained hard and had these last four weeks to focus in on breaking Leo down.” Rivera says he’s faster than Santa Cruz and ready to put on a good show.
Santa Cruz can’t get careless, but he needs to fight someone like WBC titleholder Gary Russell Jr., who seems happy to fight once a year. If he can’t get Russell in the ring later this spring, the other options are Oscar Valdez and Josh Warrington. While a third fight with Carl Frampton is also a possibility, there isn’t much left to see here. Santa Cruz is poised to move up to lightweight by the end of 2019, where fans can look forward to a matchup with Gervonta Davis.
Like action? You’ll love Figueroa vs Molina
The co-main event is likely to steal the show as Omar Figueroa Jr. of Welasco, Texas (27-0-1, 19 KOs) and John Molina Jr. (30-7, 24 KOs) of Covina, California go to war in a ten-round fight. “It’s the fight of the night for sure,” said Molina.
Originally contracted as a super lightweight fight, no one was surprised when Figueroa blew through the 140-pound limit and hit the scale at 144.5 pounds, least of all Molina who had preferred all along to make the fight at 147 pounds. He said earlier this week, “140? What’s up? That’s not my doing, that’s Omar’s doing. He hasn’t made that weight in four years!” No matter, the fight is on at a catchweight of 145. So call it a welterweight fight sure to deliver all the action anyone could ask for.
Figueroa hasn’t fought since 2015 when he scored a third round TKO over Robert Guerrero. He’s lost time to injury and to alcohol. Figueroa says the time out of the ring allowed him to get his head back on straight, and train hard in the high desert with Joel Diaz. “I’m excited to be back against a guy like Molina,” Figueroa said. “He fits perfectly with my style.”
Molina Jr. has been out of the ring for a year, after a scheduled fight with Victor Ortiz was cancelled due to Ortiz’s arrest on domestic violence related charges. He is also coming off a fourth round knockout win against Ivan Redkach. The fight fans most remember is his 2014 Fight of the Year against Lucas Matthysse just down the road in Carson. Molina lost by 11th round stoppage but it hardly mattered.
These two aren’t interested in finesse or the finer points of the Sweet Science, and their fans love them for it. Don’t be surprised if either man finds himself tasting the canvas before returning the favor. Molina’s best weapon is a strong right hand, while Figueroa likes to come inside and work to the body. Figueroa is the younger of the two at 29 years old, against a battle tested 36 for Molina. Fortitude is what this fight will be all about. Whoever’s chin and liver can stand up to the punishment is likely to be the last man standing, along with an appreciative crowd at the Microsoft Theater on Saturday.
Santa Cruz vs. Rivera and Figueroa Jr. vs. Molina Jr. airs on PBC on Fox starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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