Add one more name to the list of the many Al Haymon clients no longer associated with Golden Boy Promotions: junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz.
Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, frustrated by his inability to convince Haymon to bless a unification fight between Santa Cruz and 122-pound champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, has allowed Haymon to buy out Santa Cruz’s contract for an undisclosed amount, thus making Santa Cruz a free agent like most of Haymon’s clients, according to a source with knowledge of the deal.
“Oscar has been telling everybody possible that he wants Leo to fight Rigondeaux," the source said. "Clearly, that’s not on the agenda for Al and Leo. Al wouldn’t make the fight. Oscar wants to work with fighters and managers who want to put the best against the best and make the kind of fights that the fans want to see.”
A Golden Boy spokesman declined to comment, as did De La Hoya. Haymon does not speak to the media.
Santa Cruz was unlike the dozens of top fighters Haymon manages and advises who were being promoted by Golden Boy despite not having formal promotional contracts. As part of De La Hoya’s settlement with former CEO Richard Schaefer last month in which Golden Boy received a hefty payment and cut ties to the Haymon fighters, Santa Cruz and a few others Haymon fighters were still under promotional contracts.
According to a source with knowledge of Santa Cruz’s promotional agreement he was still under contract to Golden Boy through July 2016.
De La Hoya had hoped to match Santa Cruz with Rigondeaux (15-0, 10 KOs) in a big-time three-belt junior featherweight unification fight. Although Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17 KOs) is one of top 122-pounders in the world and a fan favorite, Haymon has steered him away from meaningful fights over the past couple of years. Instead, Santa Cruz has been given high-profile platforms (such as on a Floyd Mayweather Jr. undercard or the Showtime co-feature slot under the Deontay Wilder-Bermane Stiverne heavyweight title fight last month) and defended his title against poor opposition that he beat easily.
De La Hoya was tired of those kinds of fights and wanted Santa Cruz to face a A-level opponent. Rigondeaux has been very public about how much he wanted to fight Santa Cruz, who also said he was interested in the fight.
Last month, De La Hoya told ESPN.com he had begun negotiations with Rigondeaux’s team to match them in May or June.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” De La Hoya said at the time. “Talks have begun. Leo wants the fight. Golden Boy wants the fight, Rigo, his promoter and his manager want the fight. I’m not sure if Al would want the fight but the promoters and fighters want the fight. Leo is at a point where he should be fighting the best of the best. At this point I’m not going to promote a fight with Leo if it’s not the best opponent for him and for the fans to watch. One thing about Leo is he wants to fight the best.”
If Santa Cruz does eventually face the best it will, however, be without Golden Boy behind him.
Santa Cruz could instead be headed for a featherweight title bout. Haymon is trying to complete a deal with titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez under which he would face Gary Russell Jr. in late March or April with the winner going against Abner Mares in the early summer, assuming Mares wins a tune-up fight March 7 on the Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero undercard.
Whoever emerges with the belt from among Gonzalez, Russell and Mares may wind up facing Santa Cruz late this year, be it on Showtime or on Haymon’s new NBC series that debuts with the Thurman-Guerrero card.