Saturday, April 01, 2023  |



Leo Santa Cruz proves he’s for real in victory over Abner Mares

Fighters Network
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES – The boxing world learned a lot about Leo Santa Cruz on Saturday night at Staples Center. And it liked what it saw.

Santa Cruz removed any doubt about whether he belongs among the elite fighters by scoring a decisive victory over L.A. rival Abner Mares, the best, most accomplished opponent he has faced in his nine-year career.

The winner had to earn it in a grueling fight that pleased 13,109 energy-charged fans, who cheered and chanted the names of their respective fighters throughout the action. Winning in front of his family and friends only made an important victory all the more gratifying for Santa Cruz.

And he also captured the vacant WBA featherweight belt, giving him a major title in a third weight division.

Not a bad night for Santa Cruz.

“I’m very happy. This is a dream come true,” he said.

The atmosphere at Staples Center was electric, as fans of both fighters had high expectations for whichever fighter they supported and the fight itself, which seemed to be a can’t-miss action matchup of two young, hungry warriors.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It was a throwback to Los Angeles of the 1960s and ’70s, when Mexicans and Mexican-American rivals from the area faced one another in one unforgettable fight after another at the Olympic Auditorium and other venues on a regular basis.

Santa Cruz and Mares did their predecessors proud.

At the opening bell, Mares charged Santa Cruz as if he wanted to end matters immediately to kickoff off a crazy opening round. It was a preview of what was to come.

Mares, the shorter fighter, played the role of the bull trying to force his way close enough to Santa Cruz to land his punches throughout the fight. Mares tried to box occasionally but always reverted to brawling because it served him best.

The problem for Mares was that Santa Cruz, perfectly comfortable on the inside, seemed to land the crisper, more obvious shots during their many wild exchanges.

And when the fighters stood at a distance? That was all Santa Cruz, who poked his jab into a helpless Mares’ face and landed follow up rights on a fairly consistent basis. The problem for Santa Cruz was that a determined Mares wouldn’t cooperate, finding ways to get inside and create the havoc that the fans so appreciated.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

In the end, though, the work Santa Cruz was able to do inside and out was more than enough to give him the victory. Judges Jesse Reyes and Steve Morrow scored it 117-111 (9-3 in rounds) for Santa Cruz and Max DeLuca had it a 114-114 draw, a curious score.

THE RING scored 116-112 (8-4 in rounds) for Santa Cruz.

The punch stats seemed to support Reyes, Morrow and THE RING. Santa Cruz outlanded Mares in overall punches 373 (of 1,057 thrown) to 227 (of 980) and in power punches 302 (of 721) to 220 (of 786).

“I was surprised Abner came out so strong,” Santa Cruz said. “He came right at me but we figured him out and we got the win. I stayed outside with the jab. We were able to take control. My dad told me that we could beat him by boxing.

“We want to be aggressive but tonight we had to box him too and that’s how we got it done.”

Mares thought he won but didn’t seem to be devastated by the decision.

“It was a close fight but I thought I won the fight. I thought I pulled it off,” said Mares, who has now lost two of his past five fights. “My plan was to box him but I started out really fast. I felt good but my corner told me to box more so I did that. It was a good fight.

“Leo is good. He’s a great fighter. I knew it was going to be a tough fight.”

The possibilities abound for Santa Cruz, 27, in a very deep division. A logical opponent would be quick-handed WBC 126-pound champ Gary Russell, who like Santa Cruz fights for Premier Boxing Champions. Promotional rivalries would not be an impediment. Another possibility for his next fight? Mares.

“If he wants the rematch, I’ll give him the rematch,” Santa Cruz said. “I want to fight the best. I want the big fights.”