The talk surrounding Saturday's 126-pound championship doubleheader is about a future Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares rematch, but Santa Cruz says he must pass a tough test first.
It’s easy for most boxers heading into a prizefight to dismiss talks of the future with “I’m just focused on the guy that’s in front of me.”
But what if you already know the future, and that it depends on getting past the guy in front of you?
The two top featherweights are on a collision course for a rematch of their sensational Aug. 2015 thriller, in which a then-unbeaten Santa Cruz prevailed by 12-round decision to defend his featherweight title. He’s since lost and regained the crown. Now he will defend it again, against Chris Avalos Saturday night in the main event of Premier Boxing Champions on FOX (7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT), live from StubHub Center in Carson, California.
For the three-time world champion Santa Cruz there is no escaping the thought of his immediate boxing future. A win on Saturday night will put Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) in direct line for an early 2018 rematch with Mares, who appears in the evening’s co-main event versus Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez.
“I'm prepared, motivated and focused for this fight with Avalos,” Santa Cruz said. “I need to win on Saturday so that I can get the Mares rematch. That's the fight that we want.”
“ I'm prepared, motivated and focused for this fight with Avalos. I need to win on Saturday so that I can get the Mares rematch. ” 126-pound World Champion Leo Santa Cruz
It was the fight Santa Cruz wanted the moment he avenged his lone career loss versus Carl Frampton earlier this year, scoring a 12-round win barely six months after dropping a decision to the then-unbeaten Frampton of Northern Ireland last July. Had he been granted his wish, the rematch with Mares would’ve been the next fight on his ledger, in fact with earlier plans calling for the sequel to originally headline this card.
So how did we get to separate title defenses before the two once again cross paths? Call it a case of father knows best.
“I wanted the rematch real bad.” Santa Cruz said. “Right after the first fight, Abner asked for the rematch. I told him I’d give it to him, because it was only right. If he won (that night), I’d have wanted the rematch.
“I told my dad (Jose Santa Cruz, who also trains his son) that I’m ready right now. But he didn’t want to see me take on another tough fight after being out of the ring (for nine months). You don’t know how your body is going to react to the long layoff.”
Enter Avalos (27-5, 20KOs) on the title stage. The 27-year old from California was once hot on the rise, but fell on hard times in the ring in recent years before turning things around in big way earlier this summer.
A major upset stoppage win over Miguel Flores—albeit in controversial fashion—resurrected his falling career, putting him in line for a second career title shot.
“It would be a blessing to derail plans for a Santa Cruz-Mares rematch with a win (on Saturday),” Avalos said. “I've been in training and I've been working hard, staying focused, at the gym and jogging and if I'm not in the gym I'm with my family.
“So it's been a really good chance for me, so yes, I'm really planning to pull an upset that night.”
Of course, any talks of a rematch could be rendered moot by the time the main event rolls around should the co-feature not go according to script.
Mares (30-2-1, 15KOs) has fought just once since the loss to Mares, capturing a featherweight title of his own with a 12-round win over Jesus Cuellar last December. If he had his way, a shot at redemption versus Santa Cruz would’ve been next on his wish list.
But Papa Santa Cruz knows best—at least when it comes to his son, Leo.
For a complete look at Santa Cruz vs Avalos, visit our fight page.