Junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz will make his fourth title defense against Jesus Ruiz, Golden Boy Promotions announced on Friday.
The bout will take place Jan. 17 (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and serve as the co-feature on a tripleheader headlined by heavyweight titleholder Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) making his first defense against mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs) in a highly anticipated match.
Santa Cruz, who won a bantamweight world title in 2012 and made three defenses before vacating it to move up in weight, where he claimed another title, will be facing his second low-level opponent in a row. But Santa Cruz said he hopes to move on to bigger fights after disposing of Ruiz.
"I feel great about my upcoming fight with Ruiz. He is a strong fighter, undefeated in the past two years and the kind of opponent I want to fight," Santa Cruz said. "I want to put on a great show on Jan. 17 and show boxing fans that I am a strong fighter ready to go to the next level and take on the top, tough fighters in the division: [unified champion] Guillermo Rigondeaux, [titleholder] Scott Quigg, [titleholder] Carl Frampton and [former titleholder] Abner Mares."
Santa Cruz (28-0-1, 16 KOs), 26, who is from Mexico and living in Los Angeles, is coming off a one-sided, second-round blowout of journeyman Manuel Roman, his former sparring partner, on Sept. 13 on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana II undercard, also at the MGM Grand. Ruiz (33-5-5, 22 KOs), 25, of Mexico, has won five fights in a row, but all against lesser opposition.
"I know many believe I have no chance, but I am well prepared and ready to give my all," Ruiz said. "I am ready for war and ready to leave it all in the ring like a true Mexican warrior."
Opening the telecast will be junior welterweight prospect Amir Imam (15-0, 13 KOs), 24, an Albany, New York, native, taking on Fidel Maldonado Jr. (19-2, 16 KOs), 23, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a scheduled 10-round fight.
"This is by far the biggest fight of my career and I've got to show the world what I've got,'' said Imam, a silver medalist at the 2011 U.S. Olympic trials. "I know that Maldonado is a southpaw and he comes forward and throws a lot of punches. I plan on boxing the kid for 10 rounds, but if the opportunity for a KO comes then I will go get it. I'm not letting anyone take this opportunity away from me. I have worked too hard for it."
Imam scored his most notable victory in May, winning a competitive eight-round decision against former Cuban amateur standout Yordenis Ugas, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.
"Amir Imam is a great kid and a very exciting fighter, and this is going to be a very exciting fight," said Don King, Imam's promoter. "I think Amir is going to be the next Tito Trinidad. He can both box and punch and he is going to be a bad man. I want a title for Amir and this fight with Maldonado is en route to that."
Since suffering two losses in a row in 2012, Maldonado is 6-0 with a third-round no contest in his most recent fight in on Dec. 20.
"I have been training hard since my last fight against Fernando Silva, and have had no time off," Maldonado said. "I am ready to get the job done, and I hope he is ready. My goal is to show fans that I can put on a great show, step up the competition and get ready for a title match one fight at a time."