Leo Santa Cruz stopped Kiko Martinez Saturday for his first defence of the WBA featherweight title, which could put him in line for a super-fight in one of boxing’s strongest divisions.
American Santa Cruz knocked Martinez down twice in the opening round before finishing him off at 2:09 of the fifth when referee Raul Caiz stepped in to halt the slugfest at the Honda Center arena.
The Anaheim fight came on the same day that Carl Frampton beat Scott Quigg in a split decision to become the WBA and IBF super-bantamweight champion in Manchester, England.
Now that he has his first title defence in the deeply talented 126-pound division out of the way, Santa Cruz is aiming for a showdown with Northern Ireland’s Frampton in the not too distant future.
“I want Frampton,” Santa Cruz said in the ring after his victory. “He said he wants to move up in weight so bring it on.”
It didn’t hurt that Santa Cruz looked impressive Saturday, throwing 140 punches in the first round as Martinez was sent to the canvas for just the fourth and fifth time in his career.
The first knockdown was a punch to the top and side of the head, and the second was a straight right hand set up by a left jab.
In the final round, Santa Cruz trapped Martinez on the ropes and unloaded a barrage of lefts and rights against the helpless Spaniard in front of a crowd of 7,700.
The fight was filled with plenty of toe-to-toe action in the centre of the ring as Martinez was able to survive the two knockdowns and come back strong in the second round.
The 27-year-old Santa Cruz, who improved to 32-0-1, was disappointed he didn’t get the early knockout. He said he strayed from the game plan because he wanted to put on a good show, before getting back on track.
“He was ready,” said three division world champ Santa Cruz of Martinez. “I thought he was hurt and wasn’t going to get up.
“I thought I was going to finish him but he is a fighter and came back strong.
“After we went toe-to-toe I started to box him more and did what my dad told me.”
“He broke my strategy. He was moving a lot and throwing a lot of punches,” said Martinez, a former super bantamweight champ.
On the undercard, Mexican champion Julio Cesar Ceja needed just 51 seconds to win a rematch over Hugo Ruiz in a WBC super-bantamweight title fight.
Ceja dropped Ruiz with a right to the jaw in the opening round. Ruiz got up by didn’t last much longer as the referee stopped the fight before many in the crowd had a chance to settle into their seats.
Ruiz was alert but had to be taken from the ring in a stretcher after appearing to injure his leg in the knockdown.