With fight week officially underway, top media members, fighters and trainers offered up their fight night predictions for the highly anticipated featherweight match-up between Leo "El Terremoto" Santa Cruz and Abner Mares headlining Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on ESPN Saturday, August 29 from Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The long-awaited battle is considered to be one of the most evenly matched fights in the sport and fans can look forward to the best that boxing has to offer on basic cable as Premier Boxing Champions returns to ESPN for its third installment on the network.
Here's an explanation from each of the experts on how they see the action playing out August 29:
Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Mexican Legend: Abner Mares W 12 - It's a good fight that will end in a very close decision. If Abner Mares has the proper strategy, then he can make it. But Mares has to be in good condition, physically, and, mentally. If he is not, then Leo Santa Cruz can win.
Juan Manuel Marquez, Mexican great and four-division champion: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - I think Abner Mares will win because he is a more technical fighter and more experienced.
Leo Santa Cruz has the virtue of throwing good combinations, but has the defect sometimes in that he is very mechanical. Abner's virtue is very technical and he also throws good combinations. His defect is he cannot stand many punches.
Teddy Atlas, ESPN: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - This stands to be the most substantial fight that Leo Santa Cruz has had. He's had a terrific career so far, but this is the most significant step up in class of competition he will have faced.
There's not doubt in my mind that Abner Mares has fought the much better competition throughout his career and he's a better puncher and a slightly bigger guy. But I'm going to say that Santa Cruz wins a decision.
The way that Mares beats Santa Cruz is to have to hurt him, which is possible. But I also qualify it by saying that has to happen within the first five or six rounds, slow him down and take him out of that rhythm before Santa Cruz has gathered to much momentum and put rounds under his belt.
Santa Cruz comes forward and dominates you with truckloads of punches and eventually wears you down by keeping you so busy defensively that he has the upper hand. At the end of the day, I have to hang my hat on Santa Cruz to win a decision. Santa Cruz understands that this is the biggest fight of his career and he hasn't learned how to lose, yet.
Peter Quillin, former world champion: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - I honestly like them both. I like Leo Santa Cruz because he's relentless with pressure and lots of punching. Mares is very strong and a good boxer. I think Santa Cruz wins by a split-decision in a really good fight
Paulie Malignaggi, former two-time champion: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz- In a good fight, I'm picking Abner Mares. He seems a bit more versatile than Leo Santa Cruz and has been in with better opposition. That experience can help a lot when your opponent doesn't have it.
Ronnie Shields, trainer of Erislandy Lara: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - It's a good fight, but I like Leo Santa Cruz because he's more of a boxer. Abner Mares is the bigger puncher, but Santa Cruz, the kid just fights to the level of his competition. I really like Santa Cruz and I think that he's going to win a good fight by a close, unanimous decision.
Virgil Hunter, trainer of Andre Berto, Amir Khan: Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - If Abner Mares boxes and uses his legs, he can present some problems to Santa Cruz, who sacrifices his height a lot. Being as tall as he is, he often squares up and fights too close.
That can play into Abner's hands because he doesn't have to worry about the reach. I would have to say this is a pick-em fight where it's hard to give one fighter the edge. Abner can win, but he's going to have to box. Leo can win with his volume punching. It's just hard to pick a sure winner, but maybe Abner by a close split-decision.
Deontay Wilder, heavyweight world champion: Leo Santa Cruz TKO 11 Abner Mares - I'm going with my gut feeling and picking Leo Santa Cruz over Abner Mares. I see an 11th-round stoppage for Santa Cruz. I'm just going with a gut feeling on this one.
Keith Thurman, welterweight world champion: No pick - To be honest, I don't have a pick. I'm just anticipating a good fight and a great performance between two great fighters.
I've seen both fighters fight but I can't really break that one down. I like to be as accurate as I can be, and I don't feel comfortable picking one over the other. It's a great matchup this year, when boxing's doing its thing.
Omar Figueroa Jr., former junior welterweight champion: Abner Mares MD 12 Leo Santa Cruz- I think that unless Leo Santa Cruz is really, really smart, then he's going to lose. I think that Abner Mares is stronger and obviously naturally bigger fighter, and it depends on Santa Cruz and whether he's able to keep the distance.
Santa Cruz is going to have to keep Mares outside, because if Mares manages to get inside and he's able to use his strength, then Santa Cruz will be in trouble. I think that it will be Mares by decision.
Fernando Guerrero, middleweight title contender: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - Leo Santa Cruz has been in a great position with his momentum, and I've seen Abner Mares fight and he's a really good fighter also.
But I think that if I have to pick, I would go with Leo because his momentum has just been awesome and he doesn't know what defeat is. They're two strong fighters, even though Mares has that upset loss to Jhonny Gonzalez.
So they're both really good fighters who are Mexican and when you have that, you're always going to have a war. I don't see a knockout, but I do see Santa Cruz winning by a split-decision
Shawn Porter, former welterweight world champion: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - I give that fight to Leo Santa Cruz. I've known Leo for a very long time. We fought in the amateurs together and made some national trips together, so obviously that's where my heart lies.
But I think that overall, he's got the work output and all of the intangibles to go with it to beat Abner Mares. I think that most likely the edge in the punching power will most likely go with Mares. But Mares seems to step back and admire his work where Leo just continues to work.
Mares is a very sharp fighter, but I think that in overall boxing ability, that I would go with Leo. Leo has a very high boxing pace and I think that he's very smart in the ring and sees what he wants to see and throws what he wants to throw, accordingly.
Gary Russell Jr., featherweight world champion: No pick - between Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz, I honestly just can't pick a winner. I believe that Abner brings more to the table and that he's more of a well-rounded fighter than Leo is, but I don't know how Abner's going to deal with Leo's overwhelming pressure.
It's going to be really interesting to see how Abner tries to offset that. In the end, it's going to be a really exciting fight but it's a coin-toss for me.
I would love for Abner to win, because he's got a bigger fan base and I would love to fight him. Either way, I'd love to get the winner God-willing we get through our next fight.
If I had to choose between who I'd rather fight between Leo and Abner, it would be Abner based upon his fan base. But it's too difficult to pick a winner.
Ruben Guerrero, trainer/father of Robert Guerrero: Leo Santa Cruz KO Abner Mares - I'm going with Leo Santa Cruz. He's a bad-ass fighter. Abner Mares is good too, but Leo is a bigger man and has a longer reach.
I think Leo will be too strong and powerful for Mares. I'm picking Leo to win by knockout in the later rounds.
Kenny Porter, trainer/father of Shawn Porter: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares- Right now I'm going to say Leo Santa Cruz. I look forward to that fight. Leo's going to beat Abner Mares by a unanimous decision. I think that he will out-work him and out hustle him and out-box him.
Leo's a combination guy and he's boxing and he's punching and he's got pressure and he's got the volume and he's nonstop with his energy. He's a hustler who is constantly moving and working.
Jermall Charlo, undefeated title contender: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - I'm going with Abner Mares. He's a motivated fighter who wants to make up for his one loss. I'm thinking that he'll win a 12-round decision.
Mares will try to load up, but that's only going to be to push Leo Santa Cruz backward. Santa Cruz is going to try to set the pace, but Mares is going to be the more dominant fighter in the end.
Jhonny Gonzalez, former champion: Leo Santa Cruz KO 8 Abner Mares - I believe that Leo Santa Cruz will win by a knockout in the later rounds. Abner Mares is not the same since I knocked him out. Santa Cruz will waste him and then knock him out in the eighth round.
Robert Guerrero, former welterweight world champion: Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - This is a very tough fight to pick because both guys, when they are on top of their game, can beat anyone in their division.
With that being said, I'm leaning toward Abner Mares because I believe he's got the better boxing skills. Leo Santa Cruz brings a lot of pressure and that could be troublesome for Abner. I'm picking Mares to win a close split decision.
Chris Algieri, former junior welterweight champion: Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz- I'm going with Abner Mares by a split-decision based on experience and better competition.
This is a big fight for both men. Leo Santa Cruz is going to fight tooth and nail to keep that "0," and Mares always brings it and will scrap till the finish. Should be a fun fight to watch.
Mikey Garcia, former champion: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - I actually think this fight is a toss-up. It all depends on which fighter can make the fight go their way. What I mean by that is Abner Mares is probably a more technical fighter and has more skills. He can box and he can punch and he can brawl if has to.
But for this fight, Mares has to use his skills and stay on the outside, use his jab and his right hand. That way, he can pull of a decision. On the other hand, Leo Santa Cruz is a come-forward volume puncher. If he can get that game plan going and keep Mares on the ropes and in the corners, he's going to be scoring points and get the victory that way.
I think that I'm going to have to side a little more with Santa Cruz, because I think that his pressure is very difficult for a fighter. I think that Santa Cruz, by a small edge, might be able to pull it off. I think that it will be Santa Cruz by a split-decision.
Gary Russell Sr., father and trainer of champion Gary Russell Jr.: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - Leo Santa Cruz is going to come straight forward and constantly apply pressure. Abner Mares is going to try to box, but I think that he'll be taken out of his comfort zone because of Leo's pressure. I think it will come down to a split-decision win for Leo Santa Cruz.
Miguel Diaz, trainer, cut man: Leo Santa Cruz KO 8 Abner Mares - I worked about six or seven fights as the cut man in the corner of Abner Mares, and I worked the corner of an opponent against Leo Santa Cruz. Based on that, I would go in favor of Santa Cruz, 60-40, or, 55-45.
I think that Santa Cruz has shown a great chin and what you need to be a champion, and the other guy, Mares was knocked out by Jhonny Gonzalez, who is a good puncher. I think it will be a knockout in the seventh or eighth round.
Bob Santos, assistant trainer, Robert Guerrero: Abner Mares W 12 Leo Santa Cruz- Wow this is a tough one. Abner Mares is the better boxer and Leo Santa Cruz is the better puncher. Santa Cruz has never tasted defeat and that will be a very difficult task to overcome for Abner. I always go with the better boxer in these situations so I'm picking Mares to win by decision, but it won't be easy.