Born on August 10 1988 in Huetamo, Michoacan, Mexico, Leo Santa Cruz started boxing at a young age, like many of the great Mexican fighters. Although he didn’t win any major international tournaments, he did put together an impressive amateur record of 148-7.
Shortly after turning 20, Santa Cruz fought in his first professional boxing match. On October 13, 2006, he took on Pedro Silva, who he defeated by knockout in the second round. He wasn’t as successful in his subsequent bout, as he fought Rodrigo Hernandez to a majority draw after four rounds.
Despite that minor setback, he started putting together a winning streak over the next several years. Most his victories were by unanimous decision, but towards the end of 2009, he started learning how to put more pop into his punches. On November 3, 2009, he blasted Julio Valadez for a first-round KO. He followed that up with three TKO victories in a row. While none of those were against high-level fighters, his next fight was against the 20-2 Stephane Jamoye for the WBC Youth interim bantamweight title. Leo Santa Cruz took it to the veteran fighter, picking up a KO win in the sixth round.
He brought his record to 19-0-1, with nine consecutive stoppages, when he fought Vusi Malinga on June 2, 2012 for the IBF bantamweight title. In his first world title fight, Santa Cruz controlled the proceedings from beginning to end, earning a unanimous decision victory after 12 rounds. He would defend that belt three times before making the decision to go up in weight to the super bantamweight division.
Making his debut at his new weight class on May 4, 2013, he beat Alexander Munoz by way of fifth-round TKO, winning the USBA super bantamweight belt in the process. His next fight was even more impressive, as he beat Victor Terrazas by TKO in the third round to add the WBC super bantamweight belt to his collection. He made four title defenses before moving up in weight again, this time to the featherweight division.
Leo Santa Cruz announced him to the world in his featherweight debut, in no small part because it was occurring on the blockbuster Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight card, which shattered every pay-per-view record. He took full advantage, cruising to a 10-round unanimous decision victory. His next fight was for the WBA featherweight title on August 29, 2015 against Abner Mares. In a classic contest, both men fought hard, but Santa Cruz was able to edge out a majority decision win, staying on the outside just enough to keep himself out of danger.
He defended that belt once by beating Kiko Martinez in a slugfest, eventually picking up the fifth-round TKO. However, in his next attempted defense on July 30, 2016, he would lose his belt to Carl Frampton by majority decision in a very close fight. He got a shot at redemption on January 28, 2017 and took full advantage. Although he only won by majority decision, he landed far more punches and got the WBA belt back.