Leo Santa Cruz vs Keenan Carbajal

This is a fight between former champion Leo Santa Cruz and Keenan Carbajal, nephew of the great Michael Carbajal, who was an Olympic Silver Medalist and professional world champion. It seems that Keenan has won a few minor or regional titles, so he’s been on the verge of a marquee fight. This fight doesn’t seem to be for a strap, but you never can tell what last minute or unannounced arrangements have been made or will be made.

This fight supports the main event of the Thurman vs Barrios. A mid-range volume puncher/pressure fighter takes on a mid-range puncher.

Leo Santa Cruz: Mid-Range Pressure Fighter

Leo Santa Cruz. Do you know Leo Santa Cruz? We know Leo Santa Cruz–he is the archetypal aggressive, come forward, high guard kind of fighter. I was actually very surprised and impressed when he beat Carl Frampton in their rematch; he changed his style up, out boxed, and countered Frampton. Now, I think is his mostly back to his aggressive style.

Despite losing to Tank Gervonta Davis by KO via an uppercut from hell, I don’t think Santa Cruz will lessen his aggressiveness. I would expect the usual style of mid-range, aggressive, pressure, combination punching. He is a lanky dude, and he tends to initiate his offense with straight punch combinations. As he gains ground, he switches to some hooks but his bread and butter are the straights.

Keenan Carbajal: Mid-Range Puncher

Keenan Carbajal is less known. Not too many fights of his are online but right away you see he is tall. At 5’l0″ he will have the reach advantage. He doesn’t look like he has the death touch. He’s not a one punch KO type of guy. He seems to take you out with TKO, which usually occurs through an accumulation of damage done by combination punches. He throws some hook combinations but he’s not a swarmer. He’s a mid-range guy, as I’ve mentioned. He doesn’t step with his punches. He plants or is planted, and then fires. Not overly aggressive either; he does not march forward. He doesn’t have much lateral or circular movement. He can step back but he doesn’t seem to fight going back. From his one fight on YouTube, he seems to stand right in front of you.

Early in the fight. Standing in front, on the ropes. Ideally, he’d have pivoted or side stepped.

He does have a habit of freezing after throwing a right straight.

He needs a fraction of a second to recover his balance since he’s moved his weight to the front foot. The green triangle is a balanced weight distribution. After the right straight, he’s at the red triangle. The moment it takes to recover his stance/balance/guard is a time of vulnerability and steals away opportunities for counter punching.

Hypothesis

Leo Santa Cruz for sure is going to go forward. Two reasons: 1) that is his natural style, and 2) even when he’s the taller guy he goes forward, now that his is the shorter guy, he definitely should go forward. Another option for the shorter guy is to counter punch, but Santa Cruz is not going to do that. The fight would have to have gone really sideways for that to happen. So Leo Santa Cruz is going march forward and put Carbajal on his back foot. If Carbajal cannot fight on his back foot, he will have a long night. Santa Cruz will be winning rounds by landing clean punches via a volume attack.

Knowing what Santa Cruz is going to do, what should Carbajal do? The traditional way of dealing with a pressure fighter is power punching. Knock them out, punish them for coming forward. If you can’t do that, the next strategy might be to smother their offense; go shoulder to shoulder so they have less leverage for their punches. They have no room to throw with power. The last strategy is to counter punch them; you must hit them as they come in. I like the to slip to the outside, especially to your right, and land something. If you go to your left while countering, they can trap you in between their left and right hands. By going to the right, you’re outside of their left hand and their right hand. They will need to turn or pivot to face you. While they’re doing that, you punch them.

The reason you cannot simply box from long range or the outside against a pressure fighter is because a good pressure fighter will eventually get you in the ropes. It behooves you to not ignore that possibility, that reality. You box them, you stick them, and then you have contingencies when you’re on the rope.

So out the different ways to deal with the pressure of Santa Cruz, can Carbajal do any of those things? The one thing going for Carbajal is this reach and height, his physical attributes; Santa Cruz’s mid-range should be Carbajal’s inside range. While Santa Cruz is throwing straights, Carbajal can be throwing hooks, which gives msome edge on power when they’re trading while Santa Cruz is throwing straights.

Is Carbajal’s footwork better than Santa Cruz’s pressure fighting. I think no. Is Carbajal’s timing better than Santa Cruz’s pressure fighting? I think no. We haven’t seen Carbajal execute either of those things yet.

The big definitive question then: is Carbajal’s power punching better than Santa Cruz’s pressure fighting? I think again the answer is no.

Santa Cruz by decision.

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