Santa Cruz needs bigger challenges; Rivera wins in losing

Leo Santa Cruz successfully defended his WBA featherweight title by defeating the game Rafael Rivera over 12 rounds, winning on all three scorecards by a tally of 119-109 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. So what was learned on Saturday night?

Santa Cruz needs challenges

There's a particular pattern to Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) fights against a certain level of opposition -- if you aren't elite, you will simply get outworked by his nonstop work rate and lose a lopsided points decision. Which is precisely what happened with Rivera (and more on him later). And it's during these type of bouts where a rather monotonous pattern develops because while Santa Cruz is certainly one of the most active fighters in the sport, he isn't one that is particularly heavy-handed and his fights at times lack an exclamation point.

But when he faces opponents such as Abner Mares and Carl Frampton, who can match his skills, you see that he is involved in memorable battles.

So moving forward, who will "El Terremoto" face next?

While there is some talk of him facing Frampton in a rubber match, there is a "been there, done that" quality to that matchup, and Frampton is coming off a loss to IBF featherweight belt holder Josh Warrington. A unification tilt with WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. is the more intriguing matchup at this point. It's an interesting contrast of styles, a classic boxer-vs-puncher bout, and it's a fight that doesn't have any promotional hurdles attached to it given that both are under the Premier Boxing Champions banner.

"I want to fight the best," Santa Cruz said in the immediate aftermath of his latest victory. "I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or a third fight with Carl Frampton. I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division."

You can win in losing

Although Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs) didn't come close to the upset, he fought a spirited fight and actually had his moments against Santa Cruz. Sometimes isn't just about whether you win or lose. How you perform and the effort you put forth can overshadow the result. The manner in which Rivera -- who was a late replacement for Miguel Flores -- battled until the end will ensure that he will get some more lucrative assignments.

"I'm very happy with my performance and I thought I gave everyone a great fight," Rivera said. "I was in there with one of the best fighters in the world and throwing punches and exchanging with him. More than anything, I'm very proud to have fought 12 rounds with a great world champion like Leo Santa Cruz."

Rivera is a tough, solid professional. In the past couple of years, he faced the likes of former world title challenger Joseph Diaz (losing a 12-round unanimous decision) and last summer he dropped a split decision to undefeated prospect Joet Gonzalez.

"People will know me better now and it was a great experience. I want to continue to push towards another world title opportunity," said Rivera, who is 24. "I want to be a world champion, but it didn't happen tonight. I will continue to fight and show everyone what I can do."

If you have a featherweight who needs quality rounds or a tough test, dial up Rivera.

Can Figueroa make a change?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although Omar Figueroa Jr. was able to defeat John Molina Jr. by unanimous decision over 10 grinding rounds, the story was that Figueroa (28-0-1, 19 KOs) once again had issues in making weight. The original contract called for this to be at the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds, but Molina (30-8, 24 KOs) and his side were notified before the weigh-in that Figueroa would need the weight limit for this bout to be moved up to 145 pounds.

This continues a destructive pattern for the native of Weslaco, Texas, who had a DUI charge just a year ago and has had several long layoffs that have put a screeching halt to his career momentum.

It's hard to take a guy seriously who won't do the same with his career.

Fundora is a legitimate prospect

Junior middleweight hopeful, Sebastian Fundora is as intriguing a prospect as you will find in all of boxing. He improved to 12-0 with eight knockouts after dispatching the previously undefeated Donnie Marshall (10-1, 6 KOs) in three rounds. Fundora is 21 years old, but what makes him truly stand out is his size at 6-foot-7.

Fundora, who weighed in at 153 pounds, is basically a few inches taller than many world-class heavyweights. In the past, he has looked uncoordinated and flimsy, but against Marshall he looked much sturdier and actually very comfortable on the inside, where he overwhelmed Marshall with a wide variety of punches.

Sampson Lewkowicz, best known for his association with former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, is handling Fundora and he says his next bout will come in May or June. But he isn't in a particular rush with this physical freak of nature.

"I think he needs more of a defense," said Lewkowicz, adding that it could take as long as 18 months before Fundora steps up to 154.