A lot of hard work went into Leo Santa Cruz’s ascent to the world super bantamweight title. But Santa Cruz said he’s finding he has to work even harder to stay on top.
The 25-year-old will defend his WBC title against veteran Cristian Mijares on the undercard of the March 8 junior middleweight main event between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo at the MGM Grand Garden. Both fights will be part of the Showtime Pay Per View telecast.
“I like fighters that are more experienced,” Santa Cruz (26-0, 15 knockouts) said of Mijares (49-7-2, 24 KOs). “When you fight experienced fighters, your timing is better, your punching is better, everything is better. They adjust to my style better than fighting a younger fighter, because when they come in, they’re wild. The experienced fighters make me work harder.”
Two years ago, Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya said Santa Cruz was the best-kept secret in boxing. But having fought on network TV, on CBS and on Showtime PPV, that’s no longer the case.
“I think people know me now,” Santa Cruz said. “But without the support of Golden Boy and my manager, Al Haymon, who gave me the opportunity and the exposure, nobody would know me.”
Santa Cruz said he doesn’t mind being the hunted now that he’s on top.
“When people are asked who they want to fight, and they say ‘Leo Santa Cruz,’ it shows that I’m doing something good, and it gets me more motivated,” he said. “A lot of outsiders are trying to fight me and take that away from me.”
■ ANGULO UPDATE — As part of his training regimen for the Alvarez fight, Angulo is sparring with super middleweight champion Andre Ward and welterweight Amir Khan. All three are trained by Virgil Hunter.
“It’s helping me being in the ring with Andre,” Angulo said. “It’s a plus for me and a positive.”
Hunter said sparring with fighters with different styles is the best way for Angulo to prepare for Alvarez, who presents several obstacles with his skills, size and power.
“He’s picking things up and adapting to these different styles naturally and naturally integrating them into his style without being forced-fed,” Hunter said. “I never changed (Angulo’s) style, because that’s him, and I wanted him to naturally gravitate toward other things that would mesh with his style.”
Hunter said he has great respect for Alvarez.
“He’s a good fighter,” Hunter said. “He’s proven that. And he’s not anybody to be playing with in the ring. So of course his style concerns me.”
■ TOP RANK SIGNS OLYMPIAN — Top Rank signed Lithuanian welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas, who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Kavaliauskas, 25, is 4-0 as a professional. He is managed by Egis Klimas, who also manages Vasyl Lomachenko, another Top Rank fighter. Robert Garcia is training Kavaliauskas.
Kavaliauskas, the 10th Olympian signed by Top Rank, will meet James Harrison (3-5-1, one KO) in a six-round fight March 29 at Texas Station.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.