This time, it’s all about Leo Santa Cruz.
The Los Angeles fighter will move south to headline his second Southern California arena in six months when he defends his featherweight belt against Spain’s Kiko Martinez on Feb. 27 at Honda Center.
Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 knockouts) won’t be on a Floyd Mayweather Jr. undercard, as he was last year, and he won’t have the benefit of a well-known foe after defeating area rival and former three-division champion Abner Mares by unanimous decision at Staples Center in August.
“I always do my best to give the fans great fights, and that’s what I’ll try to do in this one too,” Santa Cruz told The Times in a telephone conversation. “Kiko is an opponent who’s perfect to give that kind of fight. He comes forward, never backs down, trying to land those big hooks. A fight against him is going to be very exciting and entertaining.
“Kiko has good power. I’m going to be smart. I’ll train to deal with his punches, and I’ve shown in my fights that I can box and have a lot of movement. I want to look better every time.”
Santa Cruz, 27, after claiming a version of the World Boxing Assn. title by beating Mares, has won belts in three divisions.
His Showtime-televised bout will be preceded on the network by a featherweight title bout in England between unbeatens Scott Quigg of England and Carl Frampton of Northern Ireland.
“This is the kind of fight I want first because I want to fight the winner of Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg,” Santa Cruz said. “They’ve already beat [Martinez], so if I can’t beat this guy, why go against them? Hopefully, we win and we’ll call out the winner of Frampton and Quigg.
“Both of those guys want to fight me, and I want to fight them. They’re both undefeated, and the fans want it. That fight would be big.”
Martinez, 29, is 35-6 with 26 KOs. He was a super-bantamweight world champion in 2013 before losing a rematch to Frampton and then getting beaten by Quigg in another super-bantamweight title bout.
“Quigg has the little advantage” over Frampton, Santa Cruz said. “He’s a little longer, a little better power with that reach.
“If it was up to me, I’ll fight the winner in California, here with my fans, but if my manager and team say it’s a better choice to go [overseas], I will go over there if the money’s right,” Santa Cruz said. “I’d make sure not to let it go 12 rounds or let it go to the judges.”
The selection of Martinez drew some jeers from fight fans who previously were dulled by Santa Cruz’s involvement in successive fights against Manuel Roman, Jesus Ruiz and Jose Cayetano — foes with a combined 10 losses and eight draws — before Mares.
Yet Santa Cruz promises a future against the Quigg-Frampton winner, a possible rematch with Mares and interest in Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux — despite business obstacles that could forever bar bouts with the latter two.
“I’ve always wanted to fight Lomachenko and Rigondeaux, and if it was up to me, I’d fight them,” said Santa Cruz, whose manager, Al Haymon, is currently being sued by Lomachenko’s promoter, Bob Arum.
“Those guys are the pound-for-pound best right now, and if I’m going to be recognized as the best pound-for-pound, those are the fighters I want. I’m going to keep pushing, and hopefully in the future, it’ll happen.”