Triumph of the Will: Santa Cruz KOs Martinez

By Robert Ecksel on February 28, 2016
Triumph of the Will: Santa Cruz KOs Martinez
Kiko Martinez was a do-or-die gladiator until the very end. (Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME)

“I’m up for anyone,” said Santa Cruz. “I’d love to fight Carl Frampton. He won, he said he wants to move up in weight, so let’s do it…”

Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, in a fight televised live on Showtime Championship Boxing, WBA featherweight champ Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs), from Rosemead, California, by way of Huetamo, Michoacan de Ocampo, Mexico, KO’d former IBF super bantamweight Kiko Martinez (35-7, 26 KOs), from Torrellano, Alicante, Spain, at 2:09 of round five in a blistering war of attrition.

Fighting out of the blue corner in black trunks with gold trim, Santa Cruz was facing an opponent he was sure to beat. It was the first defense of the featherweight title he won from Abner Mares six months earlier, so maybe he deserved an easy touch.

But Martinez, fighting out of the red corner in red trunks trimmed in black, is no easy touch. Despite having lost two of his last five fights, to Carl Frampton in 2014 and Scott Quigg in 2015, Kiko came to fight and came to win.

No sooner had the opening bell sounded than it looked to be over. Twenty-five seconds into the bout, Santa Cruz dropped Martinez with an equilibrium shot to the top of the head. Kiko got to his feet and was ready to rumble. Leo obliged him. He was teeing off and an uppercut followed by a right dropped the Spaniard a minute later. Martinez beat the count a second time and they continued to trade, but Martinez’s wide punches were no match for Leo’s compact delivery. But his will to win, something he shares with Santa Cruz, cannot be faulted.

Santa Cruz is two years younger than Martinez. He is four and a half inches taller than Martinez. He also, at least for now, has less wear and tear. He is more skilled than most of the men he has faced, but each of his matches turns into a fight. Leo is extremely tough. He is not extremely athletic. With very little defense to speak of, he has to gut it out with whomever he fights.

He was, in some ways, as tailor-made for Kiko as Kiko was for him.

The nuances of the sweet science are like Greek to these two men. Neither takes a step back. Neither feints. Neither ever met a punch he didn’t like. Defensively challenged offensive whirlwinds, Santa Cruz and Martinez absorb and trade punches like there’s no tomorrow. That always makes for great fights. It also makes for short careers.

“The fans love it when two fighters go toe-to-toe,” said Santa Cruz after the fight. “We were going toe-to-toe from the beginning. He’s was throwing good punches I was throwing out good punches and the crowd was loving it.

“I wanted to give the fans a great fight. I knew I could hurt him with a right hand. He’s a fighter and when he’s knocked down, he’s going to come back. In the fifth round I knew I had to finish him off and I did.”

The end of the fight was as dramatic as what preceded it. (And kudos to Raul Caiz Sr. for a perfect stoppage.)

Leo continued, “Towards the end I said, ‘This is it, this is my opportunity to take him down. If I don’t finish him right here, it’s going to make it a really tough fight.’ So I said I was going at it with my all and thankfully it turned out the way that it did.”

Nobody thought Martinez would win, but it was thrilling while it lasted. He drew first blood from Leo’s nose in round three. The fight may have been somewhat one-sided, while not as one-sided as the numbers suggest, but it wasn’t a slaughter (unless they happened to be slaughtering each other).

The end, when it came, came as no surprise. But Martinez is no easy out; far from it. He’s one helluva fighter, a do-or-die gladiator until the very end.

It’s not always the case, but in this case the numbers are revealing. According to CompuBox, there were 1,038 total punches thrown during the five-round fight. Of those 1,038 punches, Santa Cruz landed 234 of 570 (41%) to 74 of 468 (16%) for Martinez. Leo landed 44 of 222 jabs (20%) to Martinez’s 20 of 224 (9%). And in the power punch department, the champ connected with 234 of 570 (55%) to 54 of 244 (22%) for the challenger.

Santa Cruz wants a rematch with Mares, but a fight with Carl Frampton, Gary Russell, Lee Selby, Jesus Cuellar, or Guillermo Rigondeaux might be in the cards going down the line.

“I’m up for anyone,” Leo said. “I’d love to fight Carl Frampton. He won, he said he wants to move up in weight, so let’s do it.”

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