Sergio Mora: Chicano fans’ reverence for Leo Santa Cruz is understandable; their criticism of Abner Mares is not

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Having twice headlined a fight card at Staples Center—and having been, in the immortal words of Cheech Marin, “Born in East L.A.”—I can tell you that the experience is unique, special and forever unforgettable.

Sergio Mora

Former 154-pound world champion Sergio Mora has fought twice at Staples Center in his career, including a split draw with Shane Mosley in September 2010.

Editor’s Note: On August 29, Mexican-born and Los Angeles-based fighters Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares will square off in a highly anticipated 126-pound clash at Staples Center in L.A. In advance of the ESPN-televised fight (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), we asked Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora—a former 154-pound champ and lifelong Angeleno—for his perspective on the two fighters and how they’re perceived by L.A.’s passionate Mexican-American boxing community. In the second of a two-part series, Mora explains what Santa Cruz and Mares can expect come fight night—and why only one of the two men seems to have the full backing of his community.

Like most L.A. boxing fans, I also love the Lakers. So when blessed with the opportunity to fight for the second time in the same building where the Lakers have hung championship banners, I had my friend (and former Lakers star) Metta World Peace walk me out to the ring.

It helped me mentally, because I knew I needed all the fan energy and support I could get. And because it’s L.A., everywhere you looked, there were A-listers. Throw in the fact that all your family and friends are in the crowd, and you feel an intense responsibility to not let them down.

These are the moments in which all the blood, sweat and tears you spill while making that long climb up the ladder become worthwhile. Trust me, every fighter longs for that day just once in his career.

So when Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz walk into the arena Saturday night, there’s no doubt that they will be transformed. Yes, both are comfortable as boxing champions. But, come Saturday, both will experience bona fide celebrity for the first time.

And yet, when the first bell rings, only one of these two gifted and highly respected boxers will have the full L.A-based Chicano community in his corner: Leo Santa Cruz.

Although both men have taken similar routes to the top, only Santa Cruz has been able to maintain both an undefeated record and unblemished reputation. A shy Mexican champion, he fights with a relentless, fan-friendly style. On the other hand, Mares is a boxer-puncher with one loss on his record—and one big chip on his shoulder.

Since his shocking knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez two years ago, Mares has made changes to his entire team. He left his highly respected trainers and returned to his original trainer, Clemente Medina. He also left his longtime manager and aligned himself with a new management team, one that’s helped Mares carefully maneuver along the path to this long-awaited showdown.

In the eyes of many Mexican fans, Mares “sold out” by doing this. They see him as and guilty of disloyalty and of violating the Mexican tradition of a guerrero, or warrior.

In the wake of this criticism from both fans and media, Mares has responded with a darker attitude: No more Mr. Nice Guy. He’s now “the good, the bad and the ugly,” all rolled up in 126 pounds.

The irony here is, even as Mares is being managed more carefully and fighting less dangerous opponents, he’s collecting bigger purses. And if anyone’s earned it, it’s Mares. After countless battles against the best in two weight divisions, he deserved a break from fighting only the elite.

Santa Cruz, although proven and very impressive, has not faced the same caliber of opposition as Mares, especially lately. And yet he’s been able to bob and weave his way around the kind of criticism that has stuck to Mares. While Mares certainly still has a strong fan base, it’s Santa Cruz who remains universally liked.

Now, as far as this matchup goes, there's no doubt that Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares are two extremely humble, proud champions who have earned their way to this lucrative opportunity. Will either of them be rattled by the pressure of fighting on this grand hometown stage? We’ll soon find out. One thing is certain, though: Just like the great Chicano showdowns of the past, we can all expect a good old-fashioned Mexican rumble.

The only remaining question: Who will be the last hombre standing?

For complete coverage of Santa Cruz vs Mares, visit our fight page.

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