LOS ANGELES – Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz won a 12-round unanimous decision over South African veteran Vusi Malinga on Saturday to capture the vacant International Boxing Federation bantamweight world title.
Santa Cruz, 23, remained unbeaten, improving to 20-0 with one drawn and 11 knockouts as he punished southpaw Malinga with an array of punches, notably his left hook to the body.
Two of the ringside judges awarded the bout to Santa Cruz 120-108, while the third saw it 119-109.
Santa Cruz set the tone in the opening round, getting right to work at a fast pace.
Malinga, 32 stayed in front of Santa Cruz, but he couldn’t hurt the younger fighter with his punches.
Gradually Malinga slowed and in the seventh he was hurt by yet another Santa Cruz left hook to the body, which the California-based Mexican followed up with a combination to the head.
The eighth round offered more of the same, as Malinga refused to go away but couldn’t find a way to turn the tide.
Malinga came into the bout after a 19-month layoff since a unanimous 12-round decision over Filipino Michael Domingo that assured him a title shot.
The title was vacated by Abner Mares, who stepped up in weight to claim the World Boxing Council super bantamweight title.
Malinga fell to 20-4 with one draw after the bout, which played out in evening sunshine in an outdoor ring at the Home Depot Center in suburban Los Angeles.
Malinga is now 0-2 in world title bouts. In 2009, he was stopped in the first round by Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa in Kobe, Japan, in a title contest.
Santa Cruz had fought five times since Malinga last stepped into the ring. None of those fights went the distance, and Saturday marked the first time he had gone 12 rounds.