A raucous crowd of 13,109 at Staples Center got their money’s worth on Saturday as two Mexican warriors Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares went to war for the vacant WBA Super World featherweight title.
In what was billed as the biggest fight of their careers, not only were Los Angeles bragging rights on the line between the two Southern California-based Mexican immigrants, but pride, as both fighters came into their mega-clash as world champions in multiple weight classes.
Mares, 29, surprised many by going right after his adversary to start the fight, bringing reminders to the day Marvin Hagler fought Tommy Hearns back in 1985.
The action was impeccable, as both fighters never let the other have an inch, like two NASCAR drivers battling for the same spot in the dying laps, except we were just getting started.
With a height and reach disadvantage, Mares had to bring the fight to Santa Cruz, and he did his best in doing so. However, he was also taking a lot of punches, but his heart never betrayed him.
Santa Cruz poured on the combinations and Mares kept coming back for more.
In a fight in such tight quarters, not only do punches connect, but so do heads, unfortunately, and there were plenty of those on Saturday.
In the third round, both fighters suffered cuts due to an accidental head-butt. In the following round, another head-butt caused a cut on the left cheek of Santa Cruz, as well as a cut above the right eye of Mares.
But nothing was going to stop them from fighting.
Santa Cruz began to find his rhythm and connected with quick hooks to the body, and his counter left hands were snapping Mares’s head back continuously, though, Mares kept on charging and kept going to the body.
While Mares found success, he was repeatedly warned for low blows, but in the heat of the moment, Mares didn’t care. His focus was to keep fighting and keep Santa Cruz on his toes.
After another head-butt had opened a small cut under the left eye of Mares, Santa Cruz began to work the distance more effectively.
Santa Cruz was keeping Mares at bay with the jab, out-landing him 30-2 in the category as the sixth round commenced.
Scorecards were all over the place as Mares rallied in the seventh round, landing solid combinations, but the round was still narrow as “El Terremoto” was tagging his man with uppercuts on the inside.
In the eighth, Mares appeared to be shaken from a right hand, but he never showed signs that he was going to down, showing an incredible amount of determination and grit.
Mares has a tendency to throw wide shots, which is one of his biggest vulnerabilities, and it got him in trouble against Jhonny Gonzalez in his first pro defeat in 2013. Santa Cruz was countering him with shots down the pipe as he was leaving his face wide open.
Santa Cruz, who faced mounting criticism leading up to Saturday’s bout as a result of past fights against poor, inexperienced opposition, turned heads around in this fight.
After Mares had stung Santa Cruz with precise body shots when he had his man on the ropes, a right hand caused more blood to spew from around the right eye of Mares.
At a time when both men were suffering from exhaustion, they both could have easily taken a rest, but they chose not to. This was all about the fans, The Battle of LA, and they delivered.
Although Mares gave a valiant effort in the final round, it wasn’t enough. Leo Santa Cruz was awarded with the majority decision with two scores of 117-111 and an even card of 114-114.
There was hardly a round that was a clear-cut win for these two warriors, which made the fight incredibly difficult to score for many.
While there was clear indecisiveness in that area, there is one thing that we can all agree on. This fight was one of the finest of the year, a sensational display, and a rematch should definitely be on the table.
Both fighters proved that they are beasts with Santa Cruz exemplifying his ability to box and trade while Mares proved that his chin isn’t as delicate as we thought it was.
Santa Cruz improved his undefeated record to 31-0-1 with 17 knockouts, adding his third world title in as many divisions. Mares dropped to 29-2-1 with 15 knockouts.