In a sequel every bit as good as the original, Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) once again got the better of Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), earning a unanimous decision to retain his WBA super world featherweight title Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Ring's Douglass Fischer provided the cards:
The second salvo in the so-called "Battle of Los Angeles" saw these two all-action Southern California favorites blast away at each other from the first second to the last.
After watching them duke it out a second time, UCNLive.com's Steve Kim noted these two were guaranteed to please the crowd:
Mares, who seemed to have regrets about the way he attacked Santa Cruz in the first matchup, was only slightly less of a whirling dervish. He forced Santa Cruz to dig deep, utilizing quick hands and bottomless lungs to punish his opponent.
Santa Cruz, who also picked up the WBC diamond featherweight title with the win, took some powerful punches early on but likely won the bout in the middle rounds, using his wingspan to throw off Mares' rhythm and pick him off as he charged in.
The 29-year-old Santa Cruz was also more accurate and a bit more prolific, per CompuBox:
After the fight, Santa Cruz said he wanted to take on Gary Russell Jr., who holds the WBC world title in the featherweight division, per CBS Sports' Brian Campbell:
The opponents set off at a relentless pace. Both are known for being near-indefatigable fighters, and that was no different in this rematch. They detonated on each other at a constant pace. Mares put together excellent combinations in the second round, looking less wild than he did in their first bout.
Showtime showed the two Mexican-American fighters ripping at each other in the third round:
Mares might have had the better highlight-reel shots in the first four frames, throwing hooks to the head and body and winning some of the exchanges inside.
Santa Cruz used his superior range to keep Mares at bay at times, though their instinct to wail on each other meant they never stayed at a distance for long.
The Los Angeles Times' Lance Pugmire saw Santa Cruz use his physical advantages to stem the tide in the fifth:
Santa Cruz's long limbs allowed him to parry some of Mares' punches and sneak in thumping shots to the body. Mares, showing great footwork, picked his spots and looked to overwhelm Santa Cruz with his hand speed, stringing together three- and four-punch combinations on his way inside.
A clash of heads saw Santa Cruz develop a gash over his left eye, but he hardly looked the worse for wear. He was deadly when he got Mares on the ropes like he did in the seventh round, per Showtime:
However, neither fighter was able to take control of the bout. When it looked like one might be gaining the momentum, the other would come up with a great combination or a powerful shot to the head to clean the slate and put them back on even footing.
Even in the late rounds, the boxers tore at each other at an alarming rate. Boxer Sergio Mora noted Mares' improved control and precision meant the fight was not quite as over-the-top as the first (but not by much):
Santa Cruz's ability to land shots in between the big exchanges was huge for him, and he came away with a hard-fought, well-deserved victory.
The 32-year-old Mares is an excellent fighter, and his pressure style makes him a tough out every time. A second defeat to Santa Cruz relegates him to gatekeeper status for the time being, but he has the willpower and skill to fight back into world title contention.
Between these two wars with Mares and a pair of fantastic bouts against Carl Frampton, Santa Cruz has firmly established himself as appointment television. He has boundless energy, can fight inside and out and loves to push the action. However, he can't put his body through this kind of punishment forever and should make his move soon if he wants another belt.
Russell Jr. would make for a fantastic challenge, a bout that many boxing fans will be clamoring to see now that Santa Cruz has established himself as the king of Los Angeles.