Santa Cruz defends featherweight crown, eyes Mares, Frampton

Mexico's Leo Santa Cruz, who sporst an enviable 33-1-1 win-loss-draw slate, stakes his World Boxing Association featherweight title on Saturday against American Chris Avalos (27-5) in the main offering at Carson, California.

LOS ANGELES, United States — Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz defends his World Boxing Association featherweight title Saturday against American Chris Avalos with an eye toward a possible championship rematch next year against countryman Abner Mares.

Santa Cruz, 33-1-1 with 18 knockouts, meets Avalos, 27-5 with 20 knockouts, in the main event at Carson, California, with Mares, 30-2 with one drawn and 15 knockouts, facing fellow Mexican Andres Gutierrez, 35-1-1, on the card as well.

If Santa Cruz and Mares win, they have agreed to terms for a much-anticipated rematch for the 126-pound crown early next year. Santa Cruz edged Mares by majority decision in 2015 for the same title.

“Hopefully I can come out victorious and then face all of the big names,” Santa Cruz said. “I want to rematch Mares and Carl Frampton then unify the division. I’m going to be ready to face anyone.”

Britain’s Frampton, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, took the title from Santa Cruz last year in New York but lost a January rematch in Las Vegas. Frampton is set for his first fight since that loss next month in Belfast.

Rival featherweight champions include Britain’s Lee Selby (25-1 with nine knockouts) with the International Boxing Federation title and American Gary Russell (28-1 with 17 knockouts) with the World Boxing Council crown.

In his first bout since reclaiming the throne, Santa Cruz meets a challenger who dropped three of four bouts before stopping Miguel Flores in July.

“I want to get in there and test my body and see how I feel heading into the bigger fights in the future,” Santa Cruz said. “A lot of people think this will be easy for me, but I don’t see it that way.

“Chris Avalos is a tough fighter. He has 20 knockouts so I’m not going to underestimate him. Up there in the ring anything can happen. I’m going to be smart, be patient and do what I have to do to win the fight.”

Avalos was stopped by Frampton in 2015 at Belfast for the IBF super bantamweight crown in his only prior world title fight.

“I’m ready for this battle,” Avalos said. “This is going to be a war. I like going toe-to-toe and so does he. I’m going to bring the best. It is going to be a fight to remember.”

Mares, 31, will have only his second bout since losing to Santa Cruz more than two years ago.

“I just want any champion, but obviously there’s a key and the fighter to fight will be Leo after Gutierrez,” Mares said. “Any order, Leo, Frampton, Gary Russell. That could totally be my career right there.”

–Agence France-Presse