The Battle of Los Angeles turned into a war of contrasting styles, with a new king of L.A. crowned in blood.
In a sensational scrap that lived up to its billing as one of the biggest showdowns ever between Mexican-American fighters, Leo Santa Cruz won a majority decision over Abner Mares, with the two fighters throwing more than 2,000 punches combined at their hometown Staples Center on Saturday night in front of a raucous, adrenalized crowd of 13,109.
Seriously, there’s going to be a run on throat lozenges in the L.A. area in the wake of all the cheering and chanting that reverberated through the arena throughout the night.
Perhaps the biggest revelation in the immediate aftermath of the bout is how Santa Cruz, normally one of the most dogged, reliable volume fighters in the sport, channeled a different side of himself against Mares, tempering pressure with patience and tactically picking Mares apart.
But it wasn’t easy. Mares got off to a blazing start and, initially, Santa Cruz felt the burn as Mares unleashed lighting-quick combos to the body while bulldozing him into the ropes.
Mares fought at a breathless pace during the first third of the fight, planting his feet and sitting down on his punches, digging into Santa Cruz’s midsection like he was trying to excavate his ribs.
“I felt really good those four rounds,” Mares said afterward as he was departing the arena. “Honestly, I felt like I had those four rounds in the bag, but then I get to the corner, and my corner tells me to start boxing, because that’s not the plan.
“We make mistakes,” he continued. “I should have kept one style, not change it up so much.”
As the fight moved to the middle rounds, Mares began to marshal his aggression, engaging more judiciously, attacking and then bouncing out of the way as Santa Cruz started picking up the pace.
Santa Cruz took control of the fight at this point, catching Mares with hard right hands over Mares’ jab as the latter’s face became a mask of crimson following a clash of heads in Round 3.
Mares continued to charge at Santa Cruz, bullying him around the ring and grappling plenty, but Santa Cruz landed the cleaner, crisper shots and outboxed Mares.
“In the gym, we practiced that,” Santa Cruz said in his locker room after the fight as ice was being applied to his swollen left eye. “We always said that we knew how to box, but we never wanted to do it because we wanted to please the fans. And going forward, throwing punches, that’s how we please the fans. But this fight I had to do it—and we did.”
Santa Cruz said he anticipated Mares coming on strong early.
“I knew he was going to come out like that,” he said. “My dad told me, ‘He’s not going to be able to last rounds like that. Be patient, he’s going to get tired and you’re going to be able to break him down and beat him to the punch.’ And that’s what we did.”
Santa Cruz continued to build momentum as the fight progressed, culminating in a dominant Round 11, where he landed a series of clubbing lefts and hard rights.
Following an explosive Round 12 in which both fighters went for broke, Santa Cruz won a majority decision (117-111 twice and 114-114).
Mares wasn’t happy with those scores, but he was decidedly more upbeat about the show that he and Santa Cruz put on.
“I could have kept up the pressure and done different things,” Mares acknowledged, “but at the end of the day, it was an exciting fight. The fans went home happy.”
Until the next morning, that is, when all those sore throats set in.
For full coverage of Santa Cruz vs Mares, including judges’ scorecards and photos, visit our fight page.