In the Battle for LA, there was a clear rooting favorite at the STAPLES Center on Saturday night, and Leo Santa Cruz didn't disappoint his fan base.
Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 knockouts) once again earned a decision over Abner Mares, a fellow Mexican multi-divisional champion who has made a home for himself in the Los Angeles area. Scores were unanimous for Santa Cruz -- 115-113 from Ray Danseco, 116-112 from Steve Weisfeld, and 117-111 from Zac Young. The fight seemed closer than their first affair in August of 2015 that saw Santa Cruz win by majority decision. Santa Cruz retained his WBA belt at 126 pounds in front of 12,505 fans.
The two combined for 2,038 punches Saturday night -- seven more punches than the two combined to throw in their first fight. Santa Cruz landed 357 of 1,061 punches and Mares landed 226 of 997 in the rematch.
“It was a great fight," Santa Cruz said after the win. "Another war like we said. I had to be smarter. I had to do what I had to do to win the fight."
“ It was a great fight. Another war like we said. I had to be smarter. I had to do what I had to do to win the fight. ” Leo Santa Cruz, on his rematch victory over Abner Mares
Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) fought a better gameplan than the first fight, finding the mark with shorter shots in between Santa Cruz's wider shots in the early goings. Mares fought at the pace that favors Santa Cruz and held his own, building an early lead according to many ringside.
The third round saw both guys wobbled by each other's offense. First Mares was buzzed by a Santa Cruz combination and then came right back with his own offense. Santa Cruz then felt the power of Mares following a wicked combination.
Santa Cruz landed his best shots when he caught Mares moving backwards when Mares was done throwing a combination. Both dug heavy shots to the body.
Santa Cruz began to use his length in the fifth round, catching Mares with straight right hands from the outside. Mares and Santa Cruz traded a couple shots behind the head.
The tide started to head in Santa Cruz's favor in the second half of the fight as the pace seemed to wear on the 32-year-old Mares just enough for there to be more separation.
Santa Cruz suffered a cut near his right eye in the ninth round but it didn't bother him.
“A cut is a cut, it’s just blood," Santa Cruz said. "If anything, it brings more hunger out of me."
Santa Cruz started to pull away in the championship rounds. Mares had much less heat on his punches and was fluttering away with combinations. Santa Cruz was catching Mares flusher with his shots and doing more damage, which likely helped on the scorecards.
Santa Cruz won two out of the last three rounds on all three judges scorecards, though he was ahead on all three scorecards at the halfway point.
Santa Cruz turns 30 years old in August and has been in some hellacious wars since first facing Mares in 2015. The featherweight division is loaded -- a rubber match with Carl Frampton would be a big fight, as would a matchup with the speedy Gary Russell Jr., who holds the WBC belt at 126 pounds. Santa Cruz says he is ready.
"I want Gary Russell," Santa Cruz said. "Let’s unify. I’m not scared of anybody. Whoever I get, let’s go. I’m ready."
Mares doesn't lose much by not coming away with a title. He's still a relevant name that guarantees action whenever he fights and shouldn't have a hard time finding a meaningful fight in the near future.
“Without a doubt, Leo is the number one featherweight in the world," Mares said of the man he shared the ring with for 24 rounds. "I say before the fight that the winner of this would be the best in the world. I take my hat off to him."