Denzil Stone – Atlantic City
Throwing, on average, over a century of shots in every round, busy boxer Leo Santa Cruz dominated game and durable Vusi Malinga on Saturday, June 1 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Santa Cruz was sensational in many aspects of his boxing as he showed marvelous conditioning and exceptional understanding of the jab, hook and the straight. With victory, Santa Cruz received the vacant IBF bantamweight title.
Official verdict: Santa Cruz by way of unanimous decision (120-108, 120-108, 119-109).
“It means the world,” said Santa Cruz to Showtime having picked up his first world championship, before adding: “It was always my dream.” Whether that dream consisted of such an emphatic routing of an experienced fighter would have been doubtful, but that was precisely what the Mexican achieved as Malinga was never in the competitive.
Vusi Malinga, despite his number one contender status, was not expected to overcome local fighter Leo Santa Cruz’s improving weaponry and, on the basis of the first round, that quickly became apparent as Malinga failed to land his signature uppercuts while Santa Cruz, conversely, enjoyed greater precision with a wider array of punches – particularly the hooks to the body.
In round two, Malinga upped his punch output in an effort to match Santa Cruz’s constant fist-throwing but, like the first, Leo got the better of the exchanges because he was finding it easier to land his shots than Vusi was. Santa Cruz, in typical Mexican fashion, was scoring well with a left hook and double left hook to the body and, in the third, he landed upstairs as well as downstairs and landed with straight rights to the head.
In the fourth round, Santa Cruz cracked further left hooks into Malinga’s ribs, backed him up, pumped right hands into his mouth and put together three and four punches together. All this, while using foot movement to frustrate Malinga and ensure his success rate never strayed too far above the 1:5 mark. Santa Cruz was streaks ahead in terms of punches thrown and landed and his ratio of success was over 3:10 with his most useful shots the jab (which he even tripled up on), the body-bound left hooks and the straight rights.
By the middle of the contest, Malinga threatened to fight his way into a scoring stanza but his work was just completely overshadowed by Santa Cruz’s ability to withstand any attack as well as his own unyielding effort to stay busy, even piecing together combinations consisting of five punches.
Santa Cruz hurt Malinga with a right hook to the body in round eight, forcing the South African onto the back-foot which raised Leo’s hackles as he charged in looking to capitalise on the damage done. Then, in round nine, Malinga’s chin was tested with a right fist, before further attention to either side of the midsection.
Going into the final stretch, Santa Cruz showed no signs of being unaccustomed to the 12-round distance as his exceptional conditioning ensured he was able to fight to the same tempo he had enforced from minute one and, even in the 11th, he landed the majority of his shots within his five-punch flurries, peppering Malinga’s skull with a consistent accuracy.
Showing good craft, Santa Cruz would block Malinga’s shots with a rigid guard, dip low and then land with a right hand over the top and, in the 12th, he’d hook around Vusi’s defence to continuously cronk the cheekbones.
Santa Cruz, who landed a total of 410 shots from 1350 thrown, rose to 20-0-1, 11ko with the win, while Malinga dropped down to 20-4-1, 12ko.