LOS ANGELES — Leo Santa Cruz defended his IBF bantamweight title with a unanimous decision over Alberto Guevara on Saturday in the first live boxing match on CBS in 15 years.
Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KOs) won his third defense of his 118-pound belt in just over three months with steady aggression against Guevara (16-1), who performed well despite taking the fight on three weeks' notice.
Santa Cruz overcame an apparently injured nose by breathing through his mouth for most of the fight. He also fought through a right hand injury picked up in sparring, switching to a southpaw style while steadily breaking down Guevara with an impressive 989 punches in the 12-round bout.
"I've been fighting a lot lately, and I don't think I've been giving myself enough time to rest in between," said Santa Cruz, who just won his belt in June. "I'm sorry I didn't give that great of a show today. I felt a little different. ... Usually I throw more body shots, but I couldn't because he was running too much."
Judge Jonathan Davis scored it 116-112 for Santa Cruz, while Pat Russell had it 118-110 and Fritz Werner scored it 119-109. The Associated Press favored Santa Cruz 117-111.
Although Santa Cruz apologized for his performance despite connecting with nearly twice as many power shots (210-112), the Los Angeles Sports Arena crowd didn't seem disappointed at all – but maybe that's because fans got in free for the first session of a long day of boxing created by CBS' decision to show Santa Cruz's fight on network television.
U.S. Olympian Joseph Diaz Jr. also won his pro debut in the afternoon session, knocking down Vicente Alfaro in the fourth round of a shutout decision. Two of Diaz's former U.S. teammates, Errol Spence and Marcus Browne, also won their second pro bouts by stoppage.
Former British 140-pound champion Amir Khan is slated to meet Carlos Molina in the main event of the evening session.
Santa Cruz wore a Santa hat on his ring walk, and his broad smile also indicated he wasn't overwhelmed by the scope of his network debut. Yet the Mexican-born champion who fights out of nearby Lincoln Heights promptly lost the first two rounds, with Guevara repeatedly beating him to the punch with combinations and superior movement.
Santa Cruz picked it up in the third, hurting Guevara with an early left hook before methodically going to work on Guevara with body shots and a superior work rate. Santa Cruz had the challenger in steady retreat for long stretches of the remaining rounds, and Guevara's relatively meager power wasn't enough to back up the champion.
Santa Cruz controlled the second half of the fight, but failed to finish Guevara despite numerous big exchanges, including big shots early in the 12th round.
Diaz, from nearby El Monte, dominated his debut in front of a vocal hometown cheering section. Diaz, who narrowly lost his second bout at the London Olympics to world champion Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba, hopes to fight again next month.
"I was a little nervous, but I know I have to stay a little bit more relaxed," Diaz said. "I'll be better the next time. Fighting is fighting. I just didn't have headgear on this time."