Going to his opponents’ backyards for high-profile matches has not worked out very well for Kiko Martinez. All six of the Spaniard’s losses—two by knockout—have happened on the other guy’s home soil. Even so, he remains undaunted.
“Believe it or not, I love fighting in the backyard of my opponents. I don’t care. I have fought in nine different countries,” Martinez says. “A fight very far from home is not new to me.
“The true champion can fight anywhere. But if there is one thing I know from those experiences, it's that it has been difficult to win a decision on the road. Sometimes, you have to go after the knockout.”
That’s the main strategy Kiko Martinez (35-6, 26 KOs) will employ Saturday when he challenges 126-pound world champion Leo Santa Cruz (31-0, 17 KOs) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT). The title bout might as well be taking place in Santa Cruz’s neighborhood, as Anaheim is about 30 minutes south of the champ’s hometown of Los Angeles.
“We have a plan for 12 rounds. I want a war and I love the knockouts, but I am not stupid,” says Martinez, a former 122-pound champion who is looking for his fourth straight win. “Santa Cruz can punch hard and is a great champion. Santa Cruz will feel my pressure from the opening bell. I’ll stay on top of him throughout the fight [and] try to knock him out, but I can fight [from] distance and win on the scorecards.”
Competing at 122 pounds, Martinez was knocked out by current champions Scott Quigg in England last July and Carl Frampton in Northern Ireland in February 2013. Frampton also defeated Martinez by unanimous decision in England in September 2014.
Martinez’s other three losses came via two decisions to Rendall Munroe in England in 2008 and 2009, and against Takalani Ndlovu in South Africa in 2009.
The Spaniard has tasted victory in his opponent's home country before, though, successfully defending his 122-pound title against Hozumi Hasegawa in Osaka, Japan, in April 2014.
Since being stopped by Quigg, Martinez has competed at 124, 125 and 127 pounds, respectively. Martinez’s last fight was in December when he gained a fourth-round TKO of Miguel Gonzalez, concluding a rapid-fire run of three wins in less than three months.
“Kiko has the kind of attitude that reminds me of [three-division world champion] Johnny Tapia,” says promoter Sampson Lewkowicz. “He is a warrior, a bully in the ring. He’s a beast who comes to win.”
Santa Cruz, 27, won his 126-pound world title with a majority decision over Abner Mares in Los Angeles in August. Per his usual style, Santa Cruz was incredibly active in the fight, throwing more than 1,000 punches. But the three-division champion also absorbed a lot of punishment from the hard-charging Mares, and the 29-year-old Martinez is confident he can inflict even more damage come Saturday night.
“I’m going to be better than Mares or anyone else Santa Cruz has fought. I came all the way from Spain and left my family, so I’m bringing a lot of emotion into this fight,” Martinez says, referring to his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “This is about my future, and I didn’t come this far to lose. I am confident of getting another victory on the road.”
For complete coverage of Santa Cruz vs Martinez, check out our fight page.