Leo Santa Cruz has a trash fight? Don't say that to Chris Avalos and his dad

Friday, 13 October 2017, 04:47:16 PM. Lancaster's Chris Avalos has been widely criticized for putting off a fight with Abner Mares, choosing to instead battle Leo Santa Cruz this weekend.

By all definitions, Lancaster’s Chris Avalos qualifies as a “desperate” fighter, but there was something about the use of the word in a question Thursday that rubbed him wrong.

“That’s almost disrespectful,” Avalos replied. “You can make the case that every fighter’s desperate.”

Avalos (27-5, 20 knockouts) has a Fox-televised main-event date Saturday at StubHub Center versus World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs).

Out of the ring since January, Santa Cruz, 29, has been blasted for delaying a rematch with planned opponent and secondary WBA champion Abner Mares, and then turning away from that fight to meet Avalos.

Although two technical-knockout losses have been to recent featherweight champion Carl Frampton of Northern Ireland and current World Boxing Organization champion Oscar Valdez, Avalos has been beaten in three of his last five bouts — not exactly the prototypical springboard to a title shot.

So there’s a pretty strong disinterest in Saturday’s doubleheader of Santa Cruz-Avalos and Mares-Andres Gutierrez, although promoter Richard Schaefer added more $30 and $50 seats for availability Thursday and the bout should gain strong television ratings because it’ll be preceded on Fox by Game 2 of the Houston Astros-New York Yankees’ American League Championship Series.

That brings the subject back to Avalos, whose emergence as Santa Cruz’s opponent has as much to do with his power punching as the fighters’ back story.

Around 15 years ago by Avalos’ calculations, he and Santa Cruz met in a Junior Olympics semifinal fight in Long Beach.

Then, as now, Avalos’ father, Felipe, was in his corner when the judges’ scores were read after a narrow bout, giving the nod to Santa Cruz, who ultimately won the competition.

The elder Avalos was so enraged by the perceived injustice he lofted a chair near the corner and slammed it downward.

“When my dad’s anger takes over … he’s had some anger management issues,” Chris Avalos said with a grin. “He’s very passionate, this man.”

Felipe Avalos explained, “I always get mad when my son’s wronged, but it was a real close fight. Real close. I thought we won. … Yes, the chair got thrown.”

Added Avalos’ mother, Patricia: “And [Felipe] got thrown out of the show.”

While Santa Cruz proceeded to win belts in three divisions while considered one of powerful manager Al Haymon’s favorite fighters, Avalos has grinded through a journeyman’s existence.

He spoke of being betrayed by some he let close and said he fought Valdez in September 2015 while suffering the effects of a kidney infection that prompted a lengthy hospital stay afterward and has since healed.

A brighter outlook, a strong training camp and the belief he beat Santa Cruz years ago are behind Avalos’ optimism about Saturday.

“I’m a different person. … I think I can [win]. Of course I can,” Avalos said. “I’m a big puncher. He’s worried about my power, and I have a lot of it.”

Santa Cruz’s supreme boxing skill would seem to make Avalos’ fight plan pretty clear: Go for the kill early. He said that may not be the case.

“I’m not going to go in and try to knock his head off right away. I’m a smarter fighter now,” Avalos said. “It used to work, but fighters are now more experienced and they can take a punch. I have to build up to it.

“It’s going to be a good fight. Not easy for me, but not easy for him.”

Santa Cruz said his own father-trainer, Jose, advised him after back-to-back 12-round brawls against Frampton to take a less strenuous fight before returning to meet Mares, whom Santa Cruz defeated in a gritty 2015 majority decision at Staples Center.

“That’s a big mistake,” Chris Avalos said of the Santa Cruz thinking. “I’m not an easy fight. Nobody wants to lose.”

BOXING

Main event: Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) vs. Chris Avalos (27-5, 20 KOs) for Santa Cruz’s World Boxing Assn. primary featherweight belt

When: Saturday, doors open at 12:30 p.m. Pacific, television card begins at 4:30 p.m.

Where: StubHub Center

Television: Fox

Tickets: $30-$150 at StubHub Center and axs.com

Undercard: Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs) vs. Andres Gutierrez (35-1-1, 25 KOs) for Mares’ WBA secondary featherweight belt; Antonio DeMarco (32-6-1, 23 KOS) vs. Eddie Ramirez, (17-0, 11 KOs), welterweights

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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