Los Angeles has a new king in Leo Santa Cruz. From the start, this fight seemed like a toss up the minute it was announced. Despite being built up for a while by Golden Boy Promotions, neither fighter had looked all that spectacular in recent fights. Abner Mares was still shaking off the dust from the Gonzalez fight and Santa Cruz just continued to get heat and criticism for fighting nobodies on a consistent basis amidst seemingly ‘ducking’ better opposition. We have to admit, we were just a little off about Leo though.
One of the main things Santa Cruz showed in with Abner Mares, was ring generalship, something we thought he didn’t have. He worked behind a jab and was able to move with Mares while staying in control. Sluggers usually don’t have any other direction but forward, but with Santa Cruz, he displayed a keenness that is often overlooked, but a trait of some of the best in history. It is the ability to keep your opponent turning, so as to never let them be able to see a punch coming, be able to defend one properly, as well as stopping their whole rhythm altogether.
It’s one of the principal mechanics any fighter should possess really, but a specialty to those who like to fight in close and duke it out. I think Team Mares underestimated Santa Cruz’s ability to fight inside a phone booth from the get-go, but often when Leo was backed into a corner, he would always grab and turn Mares, a smart move.
Long arms, wide back, and big shoulders seem like the recipe for a big puncher which Leo has shown he is not, but he makes up for that in an iron chin. Santa Cruz never really looked like he was in any serious trouble with Mares. This can probably be partially accredited to Santa Cruz’s aptness in tucking his chin much better than believed, even though he is always in his opponent’s face ready to be hit.
Santa Cruz’s work rate also remains untouchable. Accumulation was key, as it wore Mares down in the mid-rounds when he tried to match it much earlier. Besides having the stamina, it appears that the only way to beat Leo Santa Cruz is to have enough punching power to either stop him in his tracks or slow him down, regardless of whether your game plan is to brawl/slug it out or box.
Whatever game plan Abner Mares and his team had for this fight, he didn’t follow it, as it actually looked like he was fighting off of emotions for lengths of the fight. However, to his recognition, Abner Mares never stopped trying and gave it all he had every round, and that should be respected to the mountain tops.
Needless to say, this fight against Abner Mares doesn’t really tell anyone that Santa Cruz has the tools to beat the likes of Rigondeaux at 122 or Walters and Lomachenko at 126. I know a fight with Rigondeaux is long overdue, but I’d personally like to see Santa Cruz face super-bantamweight belt holder, Carl Frampton, a better boxer-puncher of sorts, just to humor us all, right before he takes on the Cuban (if in fact he ever does).
Overall, Leo Santa Cruz validated that he has better boxing ability and intelligence than we previously credited him for. In defense of that, Mares is probably the only worthy candidate out of his 30 something fights, but the minute the bell rang, and he had to step up, Leo did just that.