Leo Santa Cruz set to defend his WBC super-bantamweight title

Unbeaten WBC champion will take on Jesus Manuel Ruiz, also of Mexico, in the main undercard bout in Las Vegas

Leo Santa Cruz is a skinny little guy with an angelic smile. If you were a mom, you'd want to take him home, feed him and tuck him in.

He doesn't have a six-pack, just a protruding rib cage. He has muscles, not ripples. The last time he scowled was never.

His real first name is Leodegario, which sounds more like a chemistry teacher or a guy with a magic act. His nickname is Terremoto. That's earthquake in Spanish. It hardly matches the look.

What you see isn't always what you get.

Santa Cruz is a world champion boxer, the unbeaten king of the WBC's super-bantamweight division (122 pounds) since Aug. 24, 2013. He has successfully defended that title three times and will attempt a fourth next Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, when he takes on Jesus Manuel Ruiz, also of Mexico.

That fight will be the main undercard bout with the Bermane Stiverne-Deontay Wilder heavyweight title match the headliner. Stiverne will be defending his WBC title, the only heavyweight crown of any note that isn't held by Wladimir Klitschko.

General sports fans love the heavyweight scene and will be mostly interested in the main event. Savvy boxing fans love the sweet science and will be additionally interested in watching Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is not only a punching marvel, with a 28-0-1 record. He is also the Santa Cruz family business, and has possible supernatural powers, such as talking people off their death beds.

There are four boys and one girl in the Jose Santa Cruz family. When they were young, the entire family lived in a two-room house in South Los Angeles. Mom and Dad had one room and the kids the other.

All the boys were boxers, encouraged by dad. Antonio is the oldest and now shares Leo's training with his father. Next came Armando, then Roberto and sister Fabiola.

Leo is 26, the baby.

"It's scary to watch your little brother get into the boxing ring," says Armando, who was once interim world lightweight champion.

Fabiola goes to the fights, but never got into the ring.

"We wouldn't let her," Armando says.

Mom Elovia stays home in Mira Loma, and, according to her sons, wouldn't watch a boxing match if they held it in her living room. She hates the sport and won't watch the replay of Leo's fights, even knowing he won and didn't even get hit much. One of the brothers came home once with an ugly-looking broken nose. Elovia took one look at it, found husband Jose and slapped him hard.

Armando doesn't fight anymore. He was diagnosed with swelling on the brain and told to quit.

Roberto had about a dozen fights, until he started experiencing severe pain in his side during a training camp. Doctors struggled to identify his problem, until one test showed it was lupus. That is a life-threatening condition that attacks the immune system. Some live a long time with it. Others don't. There are periods of remission, as well as periods of horrifying relapses.

In early May of 2013, Roberto was on life support. The brothers carry a picture of him in his hospital bed, tubes and needles everywhere, their contents keeping him alive.

Leo had a fight in Las Vegas, and the family was leaning toward pulling out. Then Leo went to the hospital.

"The doctors were saying there was nothing more they could do," Leo says. "It was three days before the fight. I went and Roberto said he wanted to give up. I told him he could not do that, that I was going to go fight for him, win some money so we could pay for more drugs."

Leo knocked out Alexander Munoz in the fifth round, and by the time he got back to Los Angeles, Roberto was past the critical stage and was cracking jokes in his bed.

Roberto is in remission now and looks and feels fine. He recalls Leo coming to the hospital.

"I was trying to say goodbye, to tell him I couldn't take the pain anymore," Roberto says.

Among the weapons Leo Santa Cruz hopes will take him to a main-event fighter, and into prominence in weight categories all the way up to 140 pounds is his vicious body punch.

"We always watched that with [Mexican hero] Julio Cesar Chavez," Leo says. "My dad always told me, no matter how strong they are, when you hit them with that body punch, they will go down."

On March 26, 2011, in a bout in Mexico, Leo hit Stephane Jamoye with two shots in the rib cage. Jamoye went down and never got up.

Javier Adame runs the Who's Next Boxing Academy in La Puente, where Leo trains. Adame says he has never seen as close-knit a family.

"When Leo gets paid," Adame says, "the family gets paid."

The boxing goals of Leo Santa Cruz include a Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather-type career with multiple titles in multiple weight classes.

Heavier weight classes would bring a six-pack and more muscles. Also some credibility to that "earthquake" nickname.

But never a scowl.


Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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