This past Saturday night there was a war in the city of Los Angeles. It wasn’t between police and protesters and although the intention was to perhaps hurt and injure the opposing entity, no one was hurt. I’m talking about the 12-round featherweight title bout between Leo Santa Cruz 31-0-1 (17) and Abner Mares 29-2-1 (15).
Combined they threw 2037 punches and it seemed as if 2025 of them were with murderous intent. It’s been years since there’s been a fight on free TV half as great as the Santa Cruz-Mares slug-fest.
If the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout and the recent Mosley-Mayorga rematch represent everything that is wrong with professional boxing, you better believe Santa Cruz-Mares is ideally everything that makes boxing the great sport that it is when two evenly matched world class title challengers/holders confront each other. Leo and Abner are world class pros with equal skill and guts. Santa Cruz, 27, and Mares, 29, are at or near their physical prime, they’re both hungry and determined and last but not least they confronted each other with contrasting boxing styles. And when all was said and done – it was Santa Cruz’ size and reach, which dictates his style, which ended up being the difference in the fight resulting in Santa Cruz’s majority decision verdict (117-111, 117-111 and 114-114).
The fight started similar to the way the three round war between all-time-greats Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns did slightly over 30 years ago. The shorter Mares charged out of his corner at the opening bell and tossed massive bombs at the taller Santa Cruz. He repeated the same strategy in the second round and after six minutes of some great exchanges, Mares, by a close margin had the edge and got the better of it. His aggression somewhat smothered Santa Cruz and as long as they were close and fighting inside, it was most beneficial to Mares.
“I thought he might try to outbox me, but he came straight out and he wanted to knock me out like I thought he might. But we figured him out and we got the win,” Santa Cruz said.
I’m not sure if I would say Santa Cruz figured Mares out and then successfully altered his style and ultimately won a majority of the later rounds to earn the decision. I believe it was more a case of physicality in favor of Santa Cruz and also because Mares is just a human being. How many big shots can a man take and continue to force the fight every round as if it were the first?
During the first two blistering rounds Mares fought his fight. However, it’s only natural that he slowed down a little as the fight progressed. In the early going Santa Cruz was rushed and fought more to keep Mares occupied so he didn’t get steam rolled by him. While both were fresh and at full strength Mares was able to dictate the terms. However, that was an unrealistic pace for Mares to sustain and Santa Cruz only needed him to slow down slightly, and once that happened he was more able to impose his jab and reach on Abner. Now instead of getting touched by a solid jab here and there and one of every three or four finishing shots that Santa Cruz cut loose with he was getting hit with flush combinations. Well, shots like that take a toll on the shorter fighter who has to pay for trying to get inside.
That sequence became the pattern of the fight. Yes, Mares rested up in spurts and unleashed some hellacious assaults at Santa Cruz, but from the middle of the bout on, they did only enough to keep Leo from dominating the action. What they didn’t do was swing the fight back in favor of Mares. The height and reach disadvantage for Mares made the mountain in front of him named Santa Cruz a tall order for him to scale. Add to that Santa Cruz wasn’t predictable and really varied his offense during the last third of the bout and what you come away with is a solid but very competitive decision win for Santa Cruz.
Stylistically, Leo will always be a problem for Mares. Abner is a natural attacker due to his body build and there’s nothing he can do about that. Until this past weekend he always managed to make the ‘come in low attacking style’ work for him. Santa Cruz is really the first fighter he’s met where the price to pay in order to get in position to where he needs to be was too steep. Santa Cruz didn’t prove that he was better or tougher than Mares. He just happens to have the ideal build, style and temperament to win a few more rounds against him when he and Mares match up.
What a great fight from start to finish. The only negative associated with the Santa Cruz-Mares bout was….one of the first commercials after the fight that aired was a spot hyping Mayweather-Berto. This is a fight that will be equally as fan friendly as Mayweather-Guerrero, and you’ll have to pay to see it.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com