Pair of 126-pound champions promise to put on a show for their Los Angeles-based fans and believe winner should be proclaimed king of the division.
How many times does one get the chance to undo a critical misstep or prove that a career-defining accomplishment was absolutely no fluke?
Saturday night on a Showtime-televised card (10 p.m. ET/PT) from Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares get to revisit and possibly rewrite a key chapter from their professional life stories in a 12-round featherweight contest.
The winner of this battle emerges a unified WBA 126-pound champion, one step closer to earning recognition as the undisputed top dog in a mega-talented featherweight class.
For Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs), a win on Saturday further secures his spot among the top three of the division, alongside Gary Russell Jr. and Carl Frampton. The all-action, three-division world champ, originally from Huetamo, Michoacan, Mexico is a pressure fighter/volume puncher by nature with a tall, rangy frame that makes him especially effective from the outside.
In his 2015 majority decision victory over Mares, who was then the defending WBA champ, Santa Cruz was able to fight from his preferred distance for much of the contest. That allowed him to not only take his first featherweight title, but also firmly establish himself as an elite in the sport.
Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs), meanwhile, clearly views this rematch as a chance to re-ignite a career that grew cold immediately following the Santa Cruz loss. The 32-year-old former Olympian, who is also a three-division world champ, has been leaning heavily on the words “pride” and “redemption” in pre-fight interviews and one can definitely see why.
Of the two Mexican warriors, Mares may actually be the better-skilled fighter. Solid in all areas of the game with an unflappable demeanor in the ring, the native of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico is a pro’s pro with the track record to prove it.
“I’ve seen what I need to execute and we’re going to put them to work come June 9,” Mares said. “It’s going to be a great fight, close fight. We’re both in our prime … And I’m just ready to execute the perfect plan that we have.”
Coming into the rematch, the stakes are virtually the same as they were back in 2015. A world title is on the line, a passageway to big fights is up for grabs, and on a more personal note, the unofficial “King of LA” crown is also at stake.
“I’m more motivated…I don’t want to underestimate Abner Mares,” Santa Cruz said. “I know Mares is at his best...we have worked on things that we have seen that worked on him and that’s what we’re going to do. But I know it’s going to be a hard fight.”
The big question coming into this high stakes rematch is to what degree the past is a reliable predictor of the future.
“ It’s going to be a great fight, close fight. We’re both in our prime … And I’m just ready to execute the perfect plan that we have. ” Featherweight World Champion Abner Mares
Their first bout, at the same Staples Center venue, was a surprisingly tactical affair fought at a Fight of the Year pace.
Mares jumped at Santa Cruz from the opening bell, swarming him and attempting to turn the boxing match into a brawl.
Instead of falling apart under the pressure, though, Santa Cruz weathered the early storm and showed a subtle brilliance in turning a melee into a bout fought at his chosen pace and distance. He side-stepped bull rushes, pivoted away from head-on attacks, and when distance was established, worked to get his punches off first, keeping Mares at a long arm’s length distance for much of the rest of the fight. By the later rounds, Mares was fighting at Santa Cruz’s preferred time and space, conditioned to do so by his foe’s early work to establish implied boundaries.
Judge Max DeLuca’s odd 114-114 scorecard turned a decisive win for Santa Cruz into a misleading majority decision, but most everyone agreed that “El Terremoto” had clearly won this LA showdown.
Even though the script got flipped on him, Mares’ early game plan was not a bad one. Testing the mettle of the younger, less battled-tested fighter with a phone booth war negating his reach advantage was a smart call. Santa Cruz was able to turn things to his liking, but Mares’ path to victory was (and still is) via inside war of attrition.
It’s going to be up to Mares to stay focused on execution and come into this rematch physically capable of waging twelve rounds of hellacious war. Getting inside and staying inside on Santa Cruz won’t be easy, but trying to win from a distance just may be impossible.
Conventional boxing wisdom says that the winner of a first bout will win the rematch in easier, more convincing fashion, but, like most everything in boxing, that bit of wisdom is absolutely not etched in stone.
Abner Mares most definitely has the skill and ability to correct errors made three years ago. And Santa Cruz, of course, has the skill and ability to do what he did last time and even improve on that stellar performance.
Santa Cruz-Mares II is going to come down to Mares’ burning desire for redemption versus Santa Cruz’s steely determination to confirm superiority. This crucial featherweight clash, propelled by personal pride and “must win” drama, is a guaranteed thriller and a win-win for fans.
For a closer look at Santa Cruz vs Mares, check out our fight page.