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Santa Cruz fights on with his father by his side

There are a few things ubiquitous about featherweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz.

There is the unmistakable boatload of punches he throws fight in and fight out, which has helped make him a fan favorite. There is the smile that never seems to leave his face. And there is his father and trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, always by his side and wearing a big, black cowboy hat.

When Leo Santa Cruz steps into the ring to make his second title defense on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET, with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme at 7 p.m. ET/PT), in a much-anticipated and expected action-packed fight against former unified junior featherweight titleholder Carl Frampton at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Jose Santa Cruz will once again be at his side.

It has been touch and go for the elder Santa Cruz because he is in the fight of his life against bone cancer. He is apparently doing well at the moment and was healthy enough to work with his son during the training camp and to make the trip from their home in Southern California to New York for the fight.

"I am so happy my father is here with us,'' Leo Santa Cruz said. "We thought he might not be able to make it, but thank God he is here with us. Not having my dad here in New York with me would have been hard. It actually brought tears to my eyes, but I am very happy that he is here and will be in my corner for my fight."

The Santa Cruz family is well-liked throughout the boxing community and Lou DiBella, promoter of the card, seemingly spoke for all recently when he told Leo Santa Cruz during a media teleconference to discuss the match, "I just want you to know that all of us in the entire boxing world are praying for your dad and thank you for your dad."

Leo Santa Cruz, probably wearing that big smile, responded, "Thank you guys for your prayers and, yes, my dad right now, he's doing great. Thank God, and hopefully he continues to beat cancer."

Jose Santa Cruz, a Mexican immigrant, got his son started in boxing along wth Leo's brothers, Jose Armando, a former lightweight contender, and Antonio. As long as he was healthy enough, Jose says he was not about to miss what many view as the most dangerous fight of Leo's career -- a career that has seen him win world titles in three weight classes -- bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight.

"I'm so thrilled for Leo that he has this opportunity and to be here for him," Jose Santa Cruz said. "I know Frampton is undefeated, but Leo comes very prepared. He has worked hard in camp, like he always does. Hopefully both fighters give the fans a good fight on fight night."

Leo Santa Cruz claimed a vacant featherweight belt by majority decision last August in a fight of the year contender against Southern California rival and fellow three-division titlist Abner Mares.

Then, on Feb. 27, Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs), 27, dispatched former titlist Kiko Martinez (from whom Frampton won his first world title) in five rounds. The win came only hours after Northern Ireland's Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs), 29, outpointed rival Scott Quigg to unify junior featherweight titles as they aimed to set up Saturday's big fight.

But with his father struggling with his illness a few months ago, Leo Santa Cruz said he contemplated pulling out of the fight with Frampton.

"We didn't know how my dad was going to be, or if he would be in my corner or if he was going to be able to beat cancer," Santa Cruz said. "We didn't know what was going to go on. So, yes, we thought about [canceling the fight]. But then when we went to talk to my dad and told him about it he told us that no, that this is a job that even if he can't be there then we still have to go out there and do what we do. I knew he was going to be happier if I went out there and fought.

"My dad would get strong and he said, 'Oh, no, no, no. This cancer is not going to beat me. I'm going to fight it. I'm going to fight it. I'm going to beat it and you're going to go out there and do the same thing.' So that's what his words were. It was a big help and then it made us come out here and work harder."

By the late part of training camp Leo said his father was in the gym daily, even if he wasn't involved hands-on as he usually is.

"At the beginning, it was really difficult," he said. "But the last couple of weeks, he was there in the camp. He was there each day doing what he had to do, so I think this chance, it has been great. He'd promised that he'd come to the fight and not to give up."

Antonio Santa Cruz, Leo's younger brother, works alongside his father as a trainer for his brother, but he took on added responsibility during this training camp.

"My father is usually the one who tells us what to do. I'm in the ring with Leo but he's still there," Antonio said. "He is sick, but he is still going to the gym. He wants to be there for Leo."

Said Jose Santa Cruz: "I feel good. Right now I'm going to the gym every day. Leo looks good in the ring and is training very well. Little by little, Antonio is learning and even I'm still learning. We're both getting better as trainers and that is our goal -- to be great. I feel the love from my sons and I love them a lot too. I'm proud of them and I'm proud that they are my sons."

"He has always been there with me since the beginning of my career, since I was very small. When the doctors told me that he would be in my corner, I was even more ready for this fight." Leo Santa Cruz, on his father and trainer Jose, who is battling cancer.

When his father began to feel a bit better, the decision was made to go through with the fight, Leo Santa Cruz said.

"He has always been there with me since the beginning of my career, since I was very small," he said. "When the doctors told me that he would be in my corner, I was even more ready for this fight. I know that this is going to be an interesting fight. We're both undefeated and we're going to make it a war. Neither of us wants that first loss. We're going to leave it all in the ring. This won't be an easy fight. It's a 50-50 fight. The fighter who wants it the most will win the night."

In the 10-round junior welterweight co-feature, former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs), of Riverside, California, who has been out idle for 2½ years because of a legal battle over his promotional contract, will return and face former featherweight titlist Elio Rojas (24-2, 14 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, similarly coming off a 23-month layoff.

In the opener of the tripleheader, junior middleweight contenders Tony Harrison (23-1, 19 KOs), of Detroit, and the Ricky Hatton-trained Sergey Rabchenko (27-1, 20 KOs), of Belarus, will meet in a world title elimination bout.

There are also two other 10-round bouts on the Showtime Extreme portion of the card: former welterweight and junior welterweight world titleholder Paulie Malignaggi (35-7, 7 KOs) against Brooklyn neighborhood rival Gabriel "Tito" Bracero (24-2, 5 KOs) in a welterweight fight and Ukrainian lightweight Ivan Redkach (19-1-1, 15 KOs) against Philadelphia's Tevin Farmer (21-4-1, 5 KOs).

Santa Cruz and Frampton have shown the utmost respect for each other throughout the promotion and their high regard for each other carried over into the final news conference with Hall of Famer Barry McGuigan, Frampton's manager, offering kind words to Jose Santa Cruz.

"I just wanted to say that we're thrilled that Jose Santa Cruz is back on his feet," McGuigan said. "Every one of our families is affected by cancer."

Jose Santa Cruz is not looking for sympathy. He is just excited to be at his son's side for the fight, as he always has been.

"I'm really happy to be here," he said. "I've been at all of Leo's fights and it's great to be at this one. This is just another reason to be happy."