The outpouring of support received by Leo Santa Cruz following a crushing defeat made that otherwise forgettable moment that much easier to overcome.
The former four-division titlist did not dwell for long on his brutal sixth-round knockout loss to Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis last Halloween. The entertaining junior lightweight title fight was engaging to fans in attendance at Alamodome in San Antonio and to those who watched at home on Showtime Pay-Per-View, right down to Davis unleashing a vicious uppercut to put Santa Cruz flat on his back.
Santa Cruz trailed by just one point on all three scorecards (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) at the time of the knockout, holding his own in his fourth weight division and against one of the hardest punchers in the sport. Despite the night not going his way, the only other downside to the fallout was having to sit on the loss for more than a year.
“I was a little bit depressed. I was upset, but the fans gave me motivation,” Santa Cruz revealed during a recent virtual press conference to otherwise discuss his upcoming fight with Keenan Carbajal as part of a February 5 Fox Sports Pay-Per-View event. “They told me that I gave a great fight and to keep my head up. After that, I started training and wanted to get back in the ring as soon as possible but my team told me I had to rest and recover.
“I started training again earlier this year. After a year, I had to go back in the ring. I started to miss it. I wanted to come back in November or December but it didn’t happen. I’m here February 5 and I’m very happy, excited to give the fans a great fight.”
Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19KOs)—who fights out of Southern California but who originally hails from Michoacan, Mexico—will come off a career-long fifteen-plus month inactive stretch by the time he enters the ring. The fight with Phoenix’s Carbajal (23-2-1, 15KOs)—the nephew of 1988 Olympic Silver medalist and Hall of Fame former lineal junior flyweight champion Michael Carbajal—marks Santa Cruz’s first non-title fight in nearly seven years.
It’s a far cry from the last time he entered the ring following a loss, which came five years ago. Santa Cruz defeated Carl Frampton by majority decision in January 2017, regaining the WBA “Super” featherweight title by the same manner in which he lost it to the Belfast native just six months prior. Santa Cruz still holds that belt, though it is not at stake as the fight takes place at junior lightweight where he fights for the third straight time.
The previous occasion marked the end of his fifth title reign spanning four weight divisions, which he chalks up as an occupational hazard.
“I got knocked out. It just didn’t go my way,” theorized Santa Cruz. “After the fight, I heard from fans. They enjoyed what I was able to do in the ring. I was able to do good things. I laid hands on Gervonta. I just got caught with a good shot. I got overexcited, I got overconfident. I wanted to entertain the fans.
“I could’ve went in there and boxed and moved, not stay there to get caught with a big punch. I wanted to entertain for the fans. At the end of the day, it’s what the fans want is for us to go out there and put on a great show.”
Santa Cruz-Carbajal serves as the co-feature to a welterweight fight between former unified titlist Keith Thurman (29-1, 22KOs; 1NC) and former secondary junior welterweight titlist Mario Barrios (26-1, 17KOs), who moves up in weight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox