Leo Santa Cruz beats Ab­ner Mares by ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion


With his home­town crowd go­ing crazy and Ab­ner Mares charg­ing right at him from the open­ing bell, Leo Santa Cruz re­ally wanted to brawl.

Santa Cruz sur­vived and thrived when he re­turned to the skill that made him the unof­fi­cial king of L.A. box­ing.

Santa Cruz beat Mares by ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion Satur­day night, re­main­ing un­beaten with a su­pe­rior tech­ni­cal per­for­mance in an en­ter­tain­ing feath­er­weight bout be­tween two lo­cal fight­ers.

Santa Cruz ( 31- 0- 1) sur­vived a night of fu­ri­ous ex­changes and even­tu­ally con­trolled sev­eral rounds with his su­pe­rior jab and reach, over­com­ing Mares’ heavy pres­sure. He left Mares blood­ied af­ter the fi­nal bell, rais­ing his arms in vic­tory.

“My dad told me that we could beat him by box­ing,” Santa Cruz said about his fa­ther and trainer, Jose. “We want to be ag­gres­sive, but tonight we had to box him, too. And that’s how we got it done.”

A rau­cous crowd at Sta­ples Cen­ter sup­ported Santa Cruz over Mares, but just barely. Both fight­ers were born in Mexico and grew up in the Los An­ge­les area, at­tract­ing a turnout of 13,109 to de­cide lo­cal brag­ging rights.

Those fans got a treat of a fight fea­tur­ing 2,037 to­tal punches, and Santa Cruz emerged with the vir­tual crown. Both fight­ers im­me­di­ately said they would welcome a re­match, which wouldn’t be dif­fi­cult to book be­cause both fight­ers are man­aged by Al Hay­mon un­der the Premier Box­ing Cham­pi­ons ban­ner.

Mares ( 29- 2- 1) did ad­mirable work in­side and sur­vived nu­mer­ous big shots, but ul­ti­mately couldn’t land a decisive blow. Although he felt he won the fight, Mares emerged frus­trated by Santa Cruz’s jab that kept him inches away from a chance to change the fight.

“I think I made a mis­take in my strat­egy,” Mares said. “I came out strong, and my cor­ner was telling me to slow down. I wanted to go as fast as I could.”

Two judges scored the fight 117-111 for Santa Cruz, while Max DeLuca had a 114-114 draw. The As­so­ci­ated Press fa­vored Santa Cruz, 116-112.

Santa Cruz landed 35 per­cent of his 1,057 punches, while Mares con­nected with just 23 per­cent of his 980 blows.

Santa Cruz’s su­pe­rior reach and dom­i­nant jab work made the dif­fer­ence: In just his sec­ond 126-pound fight, Santa Cruz landed sharper and big­ger punches dur­ing long stretches of the bout, which was mostly ac­tion- packed from the open­ing bell.

The crowd was worked into a furor by the open­ing bell, and the fight­ers re­sponded to that energy by ba­si­cally run­ning straight at each other and throw­ing hay­mak­ers. They took only oc­ca­sional breaks in that pace dur­ing the fre­netic first half of the fight, even af­ter both were cut dur­ing a clash of heads in the third.

“I stayed out­side with the jab,” Santa Cruz said. “We were able to take con­trol.”

Santa Cruz main­tained dis­tance and used his left hook to pun­ish Mares, who had blood trick­ling from a cut near his right eye in the late rounds. Mares kept throw­ing shots to Santa Cruz’s body, but Santa Cruz calmly kept pep­per­ing Mares’ face un­til the fi­nal bell.

Los An­ge­les box­ing fans had ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated this matchup be­tween these oc­ca­sional spar­ring part­ners.

Santa Cruz, who grew up in the nearby Lin­coln Heights neigh­bor­hood, be­came a fix­ture on the un­der­cards of ma­jor fights. His ca­reer slowed in re­cent years with sev­eral matchups against sec­ond-tier con­tenders for his WBC 122- pound ti­tle, but he moved up in weight last May on the May­weather-Pac­quiao un­der­card.

Mares, from Hawai­ian Gar­dens, won ti­tles in three weight classes dur­ing an im­pres­sive two-year span, but his progress was in­ter­rupted by a stun­ning first-round knock­out loss to Jhonny Gon­za­lez in 2013. Af­ter 11 months off, he re­turned with three straight wins.

On the un­der­card, Julio Ce­sar Ceja re­bounded from an early knock­down and stopped Hugo Ruiz with 26 sec­onds left in the fifth round of the im­pres­sive U.S. de­buts by two promis­ing Mex­i­can 122-pounders.

Ruiz knocked down Ceja (29-1, 27 KOs) with a loop­ing left hook in the third round, and Ceja was down on all three judges’ score­cards when he flat­tened Ruiz (35-3) with a dy­na­mite left to the chin. Sev­eral mo­ments later, the ref­eree stopped the bout.

Ceja earned a shot at Santa Cruz for his WBC 122-pound belt if Santa Cruz elects to drop back down to su­per feath­er­weight.

Al­fredo “Perro” An­gulo also stopped Hec­tor Munoz af­ter five rounds for his sec­ond straight vic­tory fol­low­ing a three-fight skid for the pop­u­lar Mex­i­can su­per mid­dleweight.

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