Many boxers who end up on the short end of a decision following a much-hyped fight will reflexively kick-start the excuse machine. Abner Mares wasn’t about to do that in the wake of his loss to Leo Santa Cruz on Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Not only did Abner Mares graciously give credit to his opponent, but he also refused to blame an accidental headbutt that bled profusely during the later rounds, nor did he challenge the result of the 126-pound title fight. “I’m not arguing that I won,” he said some 24 hours after dropping a majority decision before 13,109 energized fans.
But that’s not to say the three-time champ didn’t exit the ring with a couple of regrets. In fact, Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) acknowledged that he made “a bad mistake” when, after setting a blistering pace over the first few rounds, he cooled his assault.
Mares charged Leo Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 KOs) in the first round and was successful on the inside early, even bullying the bigger Santa Cruz to the ropes and smothering his counters.
But acting on the advice of his corner, Mares transitioned from mostly brawler to mostly boxer midway through the fight. That’s when the taller Santa Cruz gained separation behind his jab, raking Mares with straight rights, right crosses and left hooks from distance.
In doing so, Santa Cruz won nine of the last 10 rounds on one of the judges’ scorecards and nine of 11 on another. Both those judges scored the bout 117-111 in favor of Santa Cruz; the third had it 114-114.
“I came out landing at will like I wanted,” Mares said. “I had the first four rounds in the bag. But in my corner, they said, ‘Abner, that’s not the fight that we want. We want you to box.’ As I started boxing, I let Leo back in. He started doing what he wanted to, measuring me. I made a bad mistake. I blame myself.”
At least one ringside observer agreed that Mares made a critical strategic error—that being bull-rushing Santa Cruz in the first place.
“In the first round, I thought Mares made a psychological and tactical mistake by coming right after Santa Cruz and then not being able to maintain that,” said ESPN ringside analyst Teddy Atlas, who called the fight. “I thought that [Mares] put his eggs into one basket, and [after] that he was doomed. He tried to fight fire with fire by doing what Santa Cruz usually does, and that gave Santa Cruz a psychological advantage. He [then] tried to box in spots, tried to force things in spots, but he never really found an identity the rest of the fight.”
The 27-year-old Santa Cruz earned his third championship in as many divisions, and he did so by outscoring Mares in both overall punches (373-226) and power shots (302-219). “They had him landing a lot more punches,” Mares said, “but I thought I landed way more than people think.”
The two Mexican-born, L.A.-raised fighters promised an action-packed fight, and they more than delivered, combining to throw a whopping 2,031 punches, according to the final fight statistics.
Mares was responsible for nearly half that total, but admits that, as hard as he connected at times, he never really stunned Santa Cruz. “Leo was a tough competitor, way tougher than I thought. He showed that [Saturday] night,” Mares said. “It wasn’t perfect where I was able to land to the body and head like I wanted to. There were a few punches where I felt like I hurt him, but if I did, he never showed it.”
Likewise, Mares said he was never rattled, not even when he took the worst of a third-round clash of heads in which he was cut over his right eyelid and forehead. Although blood spilled for the rest of the fight, Mares insisted the gashes didn’t affect him.
“I’ve been cut many times,” he said. “That wasn’t a factor.
“I fought like a warrior. … Although I lost, it was a fight of the year candidate. I’m glad the fans were excited. They got the fight they wanted. It’s what boxing needed. I hope to get that rematch so we can do it again.”
Should that happen, Mares said there are a few things he will do differently—most notably, using and sticking his jab more consistently. According to the CompuBox stat sheet, Mares threw 194 jabs, landing just seven.
“The jab is one thing to improve,” he said. “I would make it a totally different fight.
“Leo said he’d do a rematch. Boxing fans deserve it. At times, I’d still go toe-to-toe with Leo again like a warrior, because the fans would want it.”
For a complete look at Santa Cruz vs Mares, visit our fight page.