Thursday, June 20, 2024  |



Fight Picks: Leo Santa Cruz vs. Abner Mares

Fighters Network

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Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares meet at featherweight in the “battle of Los Angeles” on Saturday. The highly anticipated “Premier Boxing Champions” encounter takes place at Staples Center and airs live on ESPN/ESPN Deportes at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
The evenly matched contest pits three-weight titleholder Mares (29-1-1, 15 knockouts) against two-weight titleholder Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17 KOs). Mares is two years older than his rival at 29 and is thought of as the better boxer with a more versatile style, though Santa Cruz brings a steady pressure and is probably in the prime of his career.

It will be interesting to see if Mares is able to re-capture his form of old against Santa Cruz. He hasn’t looked the same fighter, labouring in his three fights since stunningly losing to Jhonny Gonzalez two years ago. While Santa Cruz, a one time fan favorite has caught their ire of fans for facing average opponents of late.

That will change this Saturday when both men look to win local bragging rights. Former RING light heavyweight champion and current heavyweight contender/”PBC” commentator Antonio Tarver sees an interesting fight that either man can win.

“This is a great match-up of young, talented champions on another great PBC show,” Tarver told “Mares is battle tested and he’s been fighting monsters from a very young age. He’s shown the goods and looks to stamp himself as a pound-for-pounder with a win over Santa Cruz, who has also won his share of wars. Santa Cruz brings a high work rate, as well as a height and size advantage into this fight. Expect fireworks early and often in this 50-50 fight.”

Online gambling group lists Santa Cruz as a slight favorite at 1/2 (-200), while Mares is priced at 13/8 (+163). asked 24 boxing insiders for their picks:

Kenny Adams, trainer of 25 world champions

Leo Santa Cruz TKO 5 Abner Mares: I think Santa Cruz, stoppage fifth round. I like that kid, he’s always been sharp, he’s a helluva fighter. I know Mares is awful good but this kid can go.

Marco Antonio Barrera, former three weight champion

It will be a great fight, the style of both fighters is very aggressive and they will not wait, this will give a great show. I will wait until after the weigh-in to pick my favorite, but I’m sure the real winner will be the boxing fans.

Julio Cesar Chavez, former three-weight champion

I think it depends on Mares, if we have in this fight the best Mares we have seen, I’m sure he will win in 12 rounds, but if we have the Mares of the last fights, I’m sure Santa Cruz will win the fight by KO.

Doug Fischer, editor of
Abner Mares PTS 12 Leo Santa Cruz: I favor Mares by decision. I think for him to win he has to be mentally right, his mind has to be right. He has to have confidence in himself. He’s certainly talking a good game, he sounds confident. He sounds like he’s had a good camp. Reuniting with Clemente Medina was a good thing for him. They’re comfortable with each other and Clemente has given him confidence in his offense again, because Abner didn’t look right with that one fight with Virgil Hunter. Nothing against Virgil Hunter but maybe he just wasn’t the right fit for Abner’s style. I think Abner is at his best when he’s an aggressive boxer.
I like Abner in this fight because of his experience. He’s been in against top level fighters from Yohnny Perez to Vic Darchinyan to Joseph Agbeko, twice, Anselmo Moreno, these were all really tough fights, and I’ll toss in Daniel Ponce de Leon as well. These were experienced champions in their own right. They really went in there and challenged Abner, they forced Abner to really fight at his ultimate potential. I think Abner at his best is an elite boxer-fighter and I don’t see that in Santa Cruz.
I think Santa Cruz is a very solid titleholder and he’s been in with some tough opposition but not quite on the level of Mares and I like Mares’ versitility. Santa Cruz at his best is a very good pressure fighter-volume puncher, he can overwhelm most opposition but a fighter at Mares level, if he has total confidence in himself, if he’s had a good camp, which I think he has, I think Mares can just do more in the ring than Santa Cruz. I think he can outbox him for spots, outmanuever him for spots but also get in the trenches and fight with him on even terms. I think it’ll be a good fight. I definitely think Santa Cruz will have his moments and I think he’ll win rounds where if Abner tries to take a round off or isn’t as active as he can be, I think Santa Cruz can take that round with just his forward marching aggression and his volume punching. But I think Mares will land the better punches and I think he’ll be the better ring general. From the past I’ve seen boxers who aren’t nearly on Mares level like Alberto Guevara and Cesar Seda (trouble Sana Cruz), those fighters took Leo the distance and it was just the lateral movement and the jab and they troubled Leo to an extent and they won legitimately three or four rounds over the 12-round distance. I just think Mares can do so much more than those guys. I think he can do that exact same thing but he can mix in much better combinations, much harder punches, he has a body attack and here’s an x-factor people have forgotten about Mares, he’s a rough son-of-a-bitch, he can be a dirty fighter in there and I wonder how Leo Santa Cruz will respond to that.

Norm Frauenheim, The Ring magazine/

Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares: Don’t be surprised if this is just the first one between old friends, former sparring partners, current rivals and emerging business partners. They know each other well enough to keep it close, very close.

There’s a question about whether Santa Cruz’s skills have lost their edge against a succession of over matched foes. There’s a question about whether Abner Mares has grown too cautious since he was knocked out by Jhonny Gonzalez. There’s no answers for either until opening bell. The guess here is that both will overcome the doubts and let their instincts dictate what they do, especially in the late rounds. That’s when Santa Cruz will use his advantage in reach and rely on his busy style for a victory narrow enough to dictate a rematch.

Jeffrey Freeman, www.KODigest.TV

Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz: Pride is what’s really on the line here, not some featherweight title belt made of diamonds and paper. This fight is all about Mexican bragging rights in Los Angeles and the Staples Center will be rocking for this rivalry in the making. Remember when Abner Mares used to run right through world class opponents, crafty boxers and powerful sluggers alike? I think that guy is finally back and will be in the mood to remind critics just how good he really is when he’s fit and motivated. Leo Santa Cruz is a rangy young technician but he’s never been in the ring with anyone on the level of Mares. “Pressure busts pipes,” somebody once said. Or it makes diamonds. Consequently, Santa Cruz will offer Mares very stiff resistance. Memorably, Mares will overcome it in a competitive clash that turns into a Fight of the Year candidate down the stretch. Rematch anyone? How about a trilogy?

Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, former unified junior flyweight champion

Abner Mares KO Leo Santa Cruz: Mares will win by KO, much more experienced fighter, he knows how to walk in the ring and he will handle the rhythm of the fight.

David Greisman,
Abner Mares PTS 12 Leo Santa Cruz: This is a tough pick, which is one reason why we’ve wanted Mares and Santa Cruz to fight for some time. We’ve seen Mares lose, while Santa Cruz is still undefeated. Both men have wasted time against lower-tier opposition in recent years. I think Santa Cruz can be even better than we’ve seen. But I also think that challenge will awaken the Mares we’ve seen before, especially now that Mares is in his second fight back with his old trainer. There may be shaky moments, but the guy who succeeded against tough opposition several years ago will take a close decision over Leo Santa Cruz.

Lee Groves,

Leo Santa Cruz PTS 12 Abner Mares: I think Santa Cruz’s height and reach advantages combined with his blend of volume and accuracy will be too much for Mares, who is probably still recovering from his shocking one-round KO loss to Jhonny Gonzalez. I perceive Santa Cruz as being closer to his best than Mares is and if he imposes his buzz-saw attack early I don’t think Mares’ versatility and experience will save him.

Andreas Hale,

Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares: Before Mares’ loss to Jhonny Gonzalez, I would have sided with Mares due to his resume of facing better competition. But something about Mares has seemed off since the Gonzalez loss. From a break up to make up with Clemente Medina while moonlighting with Virgil Hunter for a fight, he just seems out of sync. Although Santa Cruz hasn’t exactly blown the doors off in his last couple of fights, the sheer volume of punches could steal away any rounds that Mares has a lull in. If you pair that with Santa Cruz’ length (even though he doesn’t always use it), Mares will likely have to eat a few punches to get inside. But he’ll be outworked in those moments and the judges will score any close rounds for Santa Cruz. I anticipate this being an all-action fight that might produce some high drama moments. However, if Santa Cruz needed somebody to get up for, Mares will be it and I expect him to win a close, but unanimous decision.

Badou Jack, WBC super middleweight

Abner Mares PTS 12 Leo Santa Cruz: It’s going to be a good fight. Santa Cruz always comes to fight, Abner Mares has a little more skills. I think Mares by decision.

Reggie Johnson, former middleweight and light heavyweight champion

Leo Santa Cruz TKO Abner Mares: I give Santa Cruz a slight edge if you twist my arm but I think it’s a pretty even match up. I think it’s a good fight for the fight fans. I can see the fight not going the distance. I do think one of the guys surprises everybody and stops the other guy. It’s a very evenly matched fight.

Oswaldo K├╝chle, Promoter Promociones del Pueblo

Leo Santa Cruz to beat Abner Mares: I feel that Santa Cruz will win, he’s young and a great boxer-puncher, he controls the pace and is very accurate. I think Mares is not the same fighter he was prior of his bout against Jhonny Gonzalez. That brutal KO he received has had consequences to Mares, he is just not the same. Santa Cruz will win.

Wayne McCullough, former WBC bantamweight champion
Leo Santa Cruz KO Abner Mares: I predict Santa Cruz to wear Mares down and stop him between rounds eight and 10. I expect a toe-to-toe battle for a while and it could be great fight. If it ends up going to the scorecards there could be a rematch.
Fernando Montiel, former three-weight world champion

Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares: I’m going with Santa Cruz because he’s got more fighting skills and I feel that it’s gonna suffocate or get Abner tired a lot. Also, lately I haven’t seen Mares the same after fighting Jhonny Gonzalez. Santa Cruz will win this fight by unanimous decision; Mares will take a lot of punches but not get KO’d.

Diego Morilla,,,

Leo Santa Cruz TKO 10 Abner Mares: A couple of years ago, Santa Cruz would have been the favorite to win by a solid margin on points in this battle of pure boxers. But Mares has not shown much progress after his debacle in his loss to Gonzalez in 2013, and in spite of some terrific performances he never quite lived up to the lofty Pound-for-Pound expectations placed on him early in his career. Santa Cruz is at his peak and showing terrific potential, and his imposing physique alone will be one of the determining factors in the fight. The question of whether Haymon’s weak matchmaking has had any effect in Santa Cruz’s confidence is the only wild card here, but not even that will be enough to stop Santa Cruz from administering a steady beating to force a late stoppage or wide decision in his favor.

Scott Quigg, junior featherweight

Abner Mares to beat Leo Santa Cruz: I’m going with Abner Mares. I think he’s got more to his game. I believe he has the edge in power and speed and can box and fight we’ve only ever seen Santa Cruz box one way that’s come forward and it’s all one paced.
I think it will show that Mares has been in with the better fighters and is the naturally bigger fighter and Santa Cruz work will not have the same effect against the bigger fighter. But one punch that’s vital an will play a big part in the outcome is who can dominate there jab an dictate the pace of the fight.

John J. Raspanti, Boxing Show

Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz: On paper this is an even fight. Both Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz are champions. Mares is a former three-division titleholder. Santa Cruz is the current WBC junior featherweight champion. Each has engaged in 31 career fights. Santa Cruz is the younger man by two years, but Mares has faced the stiffer competition. I have a feeling that experience, and a rediscovered hunger, will propel Mares to a razor-thin 12-round decision.

Matt Richardson,

Leo Santa Cruz PTS 12 Abner Mares: This is a great fight but one I lean toward Leo Santa Cruz in. While it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see Abner Mares win, I believe he has lost some confidence after his crushing defeat to Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013. That confidence probably wasn’t lifted when he saw Gonzalez get beat up by Gary Russell, either. Mares has been in tough on a pretty consistent basis for the last five years. That’s got to take a toll if it hasn’t already. Santa Cruz is younger and fresher. While I think Mares will certainly give it his all I expect Santa Cruz to be a bit too active and too accurate for him. It’ll be a fun fight with lots of punches but I think Santa Cruz pulls out a close decision win, maybe even in a fight in which one judge has Mares ahead.

Cliff Rold,

Abner Mares PTS 12 Leo Santa Cruz: Mares has looked flat since his loss but I think the motivation of a big fight helps him shake it off. Mares is just more skilled, experienced, and ring smart. Should be a hell of a scrap.

Michael Rosenthal, THE RING Magazine

Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz: This is an interesting matchup. Santa Cruz has never faced an opponent as accomplished as Mares but many have doubts about Mares because of recent struggles. Where does that leave us? I think Mares will put together a complete performance and surprise many people by winning a close, but unanimous decision.

Lee Selby, IBF featherweight
Leo Santa Cruz PTS 12 Abner Mares: It’s a good fight, battle of L.A, two Mexican-American’s top of their games. One’s undefeated and the one’s got one loss, so I think it’s a 50-50 fight. I think the better boxer is Abner Mares but I’ve got a feeling Santa Cruz may win it with the pressure on points.
Dominic Verdin,

Leo Santa Cruz PTS 12 Abner Mares: The biggest fight in Southern California will feature two featherweights from the city of Los Angeles. Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz were both on a collision course two years ago. This would have been one of the most attractive prizefights between two undefeated powerhouses.

Unfortunately for Mares, the favorable outcome against Jhonny Gonzalez was not to be. Mares was defeated inside one round and the prospects of a thrilling slugfest was vanished much like Mares on the night of August 24, 2013.

Fast-Forward two years and we now have the fight we all crave, however, the buzz still lingers; it simply does not carry much weight as it did 24-months ago.

Leo Santa Cruz is the taller of the two and carries the weight well at 126 pounds. “El Teremoto’s” swarming high-volume style should provide an entertaining twelve-round war.

Mares, has won three in a row since the nightmare he endured two years ago at The Stubhub against Gonzalez. The former three-division champ, conveys a brief message to his fans and fight critics; he belongs at the top of division and a victory over the undefeated Santa Cruz will guide him back to the mountain top he once held.

I simply, do not believe his (Mares) confidence, is in existence. Something is missing. The fire, the heart, the unyielding desire to be the best is absent in his eyes.

Santa Cruz, will demonstrate his strength, youth and resilience for twelve gruelling rounds. The former two-division champ will chop down the smaller Mares, may conceivably come near to stopping Mares late. However, it will go the full distance with Leo Santa Cruz declared the winner and the best feather from Southern, Cali.

Carlos Zarate, former WBC bantamweight champion

It will be a very good fight, I don’t want to pick any of them because both are really good. I know this fight will not last 12 rounds. Abner’s chin is not that good, Jhonny Gonzalez showed that, but Leo is easy to cut in the eyebrows. As we say in Mexico, the one that hits first will win.

Final tally: 12-9 (with three undecided) in favor of Leo Santa Cruz to win Saturday’s featherweight showdown with Abner Mares.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at