It was like watching the grainy footage of Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale’s third fight now in HD, like sitting ringside at Caesars Palace to relive Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns. It’s what many expected when Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares, two wildly popular Mexican sluggers who aren’t particularly fond of each other, were paired to fight at the Staples Center.
What transpired in the main event in the latest installment of the Premier Boxing Champions via PBC on ESPN series between Santa Cruz and Mares on Saturday night exceeded expectations. Many had an inkling that their brewing rivalry could spark a trilogy akin to the legendary fights between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, and after all the dust settled inside the home of the Clippers, the demand for a rematch is proof.
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Mares and Santa Cruz darted across the ring once the fight began and bore into each other’s chests, ripping salvos of violence not seen too often these days in the Sweet Science. The two featherweights ripped into each other with such ferocity that it was virtually impossible that they would be able to keep it up their torrid pace for more than a few rounds, let alone the allotted 12.
Mares and Santa Cruz did their best to do just that, only to eventually slow down just a bit to formulate a more intelligent game plan. But even when Mares tried sticking and moving a few rounds in, and then when Santa Cruz adopted a more effective jab-brawl-jab approach, they were still able to channel their inner Gatti-Wards.
Just when one fighter seized control and appeared to be taking over, the other would sucker him into an all-out blitzkrieg. Neither man was ever knocked off his feet, but Mares was rocked a few times late, mostly from a scorching overhand right that Santa Cruz continuously veiled behind the jab.
Mares’ face looked the worse when the fight was over; his eyes were swollen and he had cuts around his left eye. Santa Cruz wasn’t as fresh, either; he was lumpy as well. But Mares’ face told the greater tale. Santa Cruz came from behind to win most of the later rounds, when Mares appeared to wither. Leo’s jab was superb and his right hand -- once it got going -- was surgical.
“My dad told me I would beat him by boxing,” Santa Cruz said after the bout. “I like to give the fans a great fight but if we had to box, that’s what we did. I was trying to jab and I hit him with the jab.”
Santa Cruz did. A lot. And that was the deciding factor down the stretch as two of the three ringside judges favored him with tallies of 117-111. The other score was an even 114-114 apiece, which was understandable. The fight was so thrilling, it realistically could have been scored a litany of ways. But what matters most are the three officials perched at ringside, who allowed Santa Cruz to remain undefeated after passing his biggest test so far.
“I am very happy. This is a dream come true,” Santa Cruz, now 31-0-1 with 17 KOs, stated. “If he wants a rematch, we’ll give him a rematch. Whatever the fans want. I want the big fights.”
Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) was eager to get back at his rival.
“I’m more than willing to do a rematch,” Mares said. “He knows it was close and that’s why he said that. I knew he never faced the level of fighter as me and he proved to today that he is a good fighter. It was a close fight but I honestly thought I won the fight. I thought I pulled it out. What can I say? He’s a great fighter. I knew it was going to be a tough fight.”
The boxing world would welcome a rematch between these two. But with how intense the battle was, with the sheer amount of brutality that was dished out on Saturday night, the world wouldn’t hold it against Santa Cruz or Mares if they took the next 12 months off before doing it again.
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