(Leo Santa Cruz throws a right hand at Albert Guevara; photo credit: Tom Casino)
For a while Saturday, Alberto Guevera was in danger of turning CBS' happy lead-in of Leo Santa Cruz as a family-friendly plugger into a tale of a guy who suffered his first loss and needed to learn to fight a little better after spending 12 rounds in the ring with the college student who knew a few tricks between the ropes. But Santa Cruz abandoned his volume-punching style and instead began throwing single punches with the intention that every one of them counted, and before long he was doing serious damage against a less experienced young man who looks like a future contender but wasn't seasoned enough to have gone 12 rounds with someone like one of the best bantamweights in the world.
Through the first four rounds, Guevara's movement, speed, defense and counterpunching practically froze Santa Cruz. It was the exact right approach against a volume puncher, but it was surprising to see such an untested fighter pulling off the strategy, especially given what a killer Santa Cruz had looked like. The 3rd went to Santa Cruz, but only because Guevara foolishly decided to stand in Santa Cruz's range. After the 4th, Guevara began to slow a great deal, the damage from solitary power punches beginning to pile up as it became clear that some of those shots could wobble Guevara.
Guevara never wilted entirely, even as the blood and swelling began to mass. He had a pretty good 10th round, although I didn't score it for him. The judges had it for Santa Cruz 118-110, 116-112 and 119-109, with my score looking closer to 116-112 than the others. Santa Cruz revealed a vulnerability we suspected he had, but that no one had laid bare before.
It was a solid, entertaining fight for boxing's return to network TV, with Santa Cruz's apology for not putting on a good show well-meaning but misplaced. Both men gave a good account of themselves, and the style clash gave Santa Cruz his first taste of real competition, something he'll grow from, while Guevara ought to be back as on television before long, with a little extra experience and no doubt having grown from this himself.
We were expected to get the pro debut of U.S. Olympian Joseph Diaz, Jr., to, but the fight didn't air, presumably because the Indiana-Butler basketball game went into overtime. At least that quality game ensured some people were tuned in to CBS on a Saturday afternoon, although it wouldn't have hurt CBS to mention during the game that boxing was on next.