In one of the biggest fights this summer, the featherweight bragging rights of Southern California were won by Leo Santa Cruz, who defeated Abner Mares in a thrilling back and forth firefight at Staples Center in the American city of Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Former three-weight world champ Mares started off fast, engaging the taller Santa Cruz in what could best be described as the Boxing version of a street fight.
Mares literally attacked Santa Cruz with both fists, winging every shot with knockout power and then mauling on the inside, hitting the former two-weight world champ anywhere he could above the belt.
Santa Cruz was initially quite taken aback at the ferocity of Mares’ efforts and it took him several rounds to get his bearings. An accidental headclash in the third round produced cuts above an eye of both combatants but the injury suffered by Mares was worse and that seemed to take away some of his focus and ferocity.
Santa Cruz started to get some distance from himself and his antagonist and work the jab, no longer permitting Mares to rush in without having to dodge shots as well as formulate an attack.
Also, Mares started to wear down from the sheer effort, allowing Santa Cruz to become the busier, more accurate and more confident fighter.
Mares regained some of his fire just after the midway point of the bout but Santa Cruz regained control by the ninth, making his adversary miss and paying for mistakes.
Mares tried rallying during times down the stretch but was thwarted by Santa Cruz’s sharper efforts.
When the scores were read, Santa Cruz was awarded two cards by a margin of 117-111 while the third was an even 114-114. Such disparity was somewhat understandable as most of the bout was waged at a distance of mere inches and featured clinching, grappling and spoiling amid the actual fighting, producing a potentially difficult to score contest.
With the win, Santa Cruz makes a successful jump to featherweight, capturing the vacant WBA “super” title and improving his record to 31-0-1 (17), positioning himself for a potential clash with the “regular” champion, Argentine southpaw Jesus Andres Cuellar, who KO’d Vic Darchinyan in June.
Despite making a massive effort against Santa Cruz, Mares drops to 29-2-1 (15) and must go back to the drawing board. There’s been talk of a rematch with Santa Cruz but what could Mares do that he didn’t already do in the first fight?
The undercard at Staples Center featured a clash for the Interim WBC super bantam crown Julio Ceja, 30-1 (27), came off the canvas in the fourth round to upset Hugo Ruiz, 35-3 (31), via a fifth round stoppage.
Ceja was moving up from bantamweight and gave up five inches in height to the towering Ruiz. Both men had previously only lost close decisions in world bantamweight title fights.
Across town at the Felt Forum in nearby Inglewood, former world champions Shane Mosley, 48-9-1 (40), and Ricardo Mayorga, 31-9-1 (25), reprised their initial 2008 clash with Mosley stopping Mayorga again, this time in the sixth round.
On the undercard, Maureen Shea, 24-2-1 (12), and Yulihan Alejandra Luna Avila, 12-2-1 (1), fought to a 97-93, 95-95, 92-98 draw for the IBF Female super bantam crown, held by Avila.
Lightweight prospect Joel Diaz moved to 20-0 (16) with a fourth round TKO over Luis Arceo, 28-14-4 (18).
Also on Saturday, one of the top cruiserweight prospects was in action as former Ukrainian Olympic gold medallist Oleksandr Usyk, 8-0 (8), notched another stoppage victory by halting South Africa’s Johnny Muller, 19-5-2 (13), at 2:59 of the third round at Sports Palace in Kiev, Ukraine.
Talented lefty Usyk retains his WBO Intercontinental crown for the second time and is the WBO’s top rated contender at 200 lb.
The 28 year old could be looking at a title shot later this year against WBO champ Krzysztof Glowaki, 25-0 (16), who came out of seemingly nowhere to unseat longtime titlist Marco Huck in a shocking upset two weeks ago.