Former world titlist Kiko Martinez might not have been the best name unbeaten featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz could have been facing on Saturday, but the native of Spain certainly gave him all he could handle.
Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) made the first defense of his featherweight belt by defeating a determined Martinez via fifth-round TKO at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Martinez (35-7, 26 KOs) got off the canvas twice in Round 1 and routinely backed Santa Cruz up in an entertaining slugfest as the two fighters combined to throw over 1,000 punches in less than five full rounds.
Yet despite Martinez's guts, it was Santa Cruz, 27, who had too much firepower.
"I always expect hard fights, but [Martinez] came and was ready," Santa Cruz said. "This was an opportunity for him so he came and brought it. But that's good because fans love when two fighters go toe-to-toe."
Santa Cruz would need less than 30 seconds to strike first in Round 1 when he floored Martinez with a right hand to the top of the head. The two continued to trade heavy shots at close range, with Martinez landing big to the body, before Santa Cruz knocked him down again with a flush overhand right.
Landing 60 of 142 punches in Round 1, according to ShoStats, Santa Cruz appeared to be well on his way to victory when he staggered Martinez with a trio of big right hands in Round 2. But Martinez simply wouldn't be denied.
"The second round I definitely started getting a little more loose," Martinez said, through an interpreter. "I started finding myself in the ring and feeling much better. "
Despite absorbing nearly every punch thrown by Santa Cruz, Martinez kept coming forward to make it a war. He went on to stagger Santa Cruz in Round 3 before bloodying his nose with a series of heavy hooks on the inside.
Santa Cruz admitted after the fight that he was initially willing to allow Martinez inside in order to provide the fans with a toe-to-toe fight. Ultimately, he was forced to change his strategy.
"[Martinez] is a tough fighter. He hits hard," Santa Cruz said. "After we knew that we could get in trouble, we started boxing him and I did what my dad [trainer Jose Santa Cruz] told me to do. "
The tide turned in Santa Cruz's favor for good in Round 5 when he cornered Martinez and hurt him with right hands in the corner. Santa Cruz continued to pour it on with a series of combinations until referee Raul Caiz Sr. jumped in at 2:09 as Martinez stopped throwing back against the ropes.
"He started to move a lot and it broke my strategy," Martinez said.
Santa Cruz, who defeated Abner Mares last August to win a vacant title, is looking to land another big name in his next fight.
"I'm up for anything," Santa Cruz said. "I want to unify. I want the rematch against Mares or I want [Carl] Frampton. He said he wants to move up in weight so bring Frampton on. I'm ready [to fight him] tonight."
Ruiz gains revenge against Ceja
Julio Ceja and Hugo Ruiz promised Saturday's rematch would be even more action-packed than their fight of the year candidate in August.
For as long as the fight lasted, they were nearly correct.
Ruiz (36-3, 32 KOs), who was stopped in the fifth round of their first bout, needed less than a minute to gain revenge Saturday and capture Ceja's junior featherweight title via first-round TKO.
A former interim bantamweight titlist, Ruiz, 29, openly weeped as the title belt was placed around his waist.
Ruiz, who predicted a first-round knockout, broke open the fight early by ducking a Ceja jab and countering with a powerful right hand to the chin that sent his fellow native of Mexico to the canvas.
"I was very prepared to knock him out in the first round, but I was also prepared for if the fight was to go 12 rounds," Ruiz said. "We came very prepared for this fight physically and mentally. Ceja is a very good fighter and I know he will come back."
Ceja (30-2, 27 KOs), who got up off the canvas to win a vacant title in their first meeting, injured his right ankle on the knockdown and never recovered in the rematch. He continued to throw punches once he reached his feet, but was unable to plant on his right leg.
Referee Thomas Taylor waved off the bout moments later at 51 seconds as Ruiz teed off on Ceja along the ropes.
"When [Ceja] got up against the ropes he was no longer protecting himself and I had to stop the fight." Taylor said.
Ceja, 23, was carried off from ringside on a stretcher and taken to nearby UC Irvine Medical Center, according to ringside doctor Eddie Ayoub.
"He certainly twisted his ankle in the ring," Ayoub said. "On examination once I got his shoe off, it was certainly deformed. Minimally [it's] a dislocation, possibly a fracture."
The victory was the 18th first-round knockout of Ruiz's career.
"We finished the fight because we were prepared [to throw] this right hand during training camp and it worked out," Ruiz said. "I'm looking for the best fighters, the best money and the best one's out there."