Leo Santa Cruz claimed the biggest victory of his career last night by overcoming Abner Mares via majority decision in front of a raucous Staples Centre crowd.
The judges at ringside scored the bout 117-111, 114-114 and 117-111 in favour of Santa Cruz in a scintillating encounter which saw the two Mexican warriors throw 2037 punches between them.
Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 Kos) is now a three weight world champion after claiming the WBA (Super) Featherweight crown in a fight that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
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Ever since Al Haymon brought “big-time boxing” back on free-to-air television via his PBC on ESPN brainchild, there has been a lack of fights that have had a really authentic, warrior like feel to them; this encounter, however, had it all.
The two fighters were greeted by rapturous receptions as they made their way into the ring, and as Jack Reiss – refereeing his 472nd professional fight – brought the two men together in the middle of the squared circle, there was a huge roar of excitement from the 13,109 fans at ringside. This fight had a legitimate “big fight feel” to it.
Mares began the fight as the aggressor. In the first round, he sprinted out of his corner and began to rough up Santa Cruz, getting up close to his taller opponent and applying the sort of front foot pressure that has characterised the work of Santa Cruz for much of his career.
The front foot, all action approach from Mares continued into the second round as he once again scurried towards Santa Cruz. Mares clearly thought the prominent way of hurting Santa Cruz would be to cut the distance and work on the inside. The tactic worked well for a round and a half, but it soon became apparent that applying unrelenting pressure for the entirety of the fight would be impossible for Mares.
The third round began with a good exchange in the centre of the ring, with both men landing some meaningful shots. Mares’ all-out attack technique shifted to a more traditional, patient approach during the round. This tactic was clearly suited to the rangier Santa Cruz, who was able to land a couple of good shots in the middle of the round. The last ten seconds ended with a brilliant exchange in the centre of the ring, which was met with deafening appreciation from the crowd.
The middle rounds of the bout saw Santa Cruz show his boxing intelligence, a trait he has not often been associated with, as he stayed at range for long periods and picked off Mares whenever he looked to rush in and cut off the distance.
Mares, to his credit, continued to try and be as aggressive as he could during the middle rounds, but his work when moving forward was reckless and he was leaving himself exposed; Santa Cruz exploited this weakness quite often during the middle stages of the fight.
In the 7th round, stats provided by CompuBox showed that Santa Cruz (who throws and lands the most punches of all active fighters) was throwing 84 punches per round, compared to his career average of 81. In the other corner, Mares was also eclipsing his career average; he was throwing 72 punches per round, compared to his average of 59.
The 8th round saw Mares trying to come forward but struggling to hurt Santa Cruz. For all the punches that both men were throwing when up close, or in a clinched position, it was Santa Cruz who was connecting with the more obvious, visible shots from distance. These are the scoring punches that the judges at ringside would’ve seen that marked a clear difference in the work of the two fighters.
As the war continued into the 9th round, the statistics backed up the visual spectacle. Both men were throwing copious amounts of punches. Halfway through the round, Leo Santa Cruz had landed with 248 out of the 706 punches he had thrown, at a 35% success rate. On the other hand, Mares had connected with 160 of the 638 blows he attempted, with a 25% success rate.
Santa Cruz boxed smart in the 10th. He was managing to keep Mares at a distance, dictate the tempo and land some good shots of his own, particularly with his right hand. Mares did land with a brief flurry towards the end of the round, however, this was Santa Cruz’s best round of the bout. He went into the championships round comfortably ahead, at least on my scorecard anyway.
Mares, as expected, came out swinging in the 11th. Once again, though, he was struggling to break down the distance; however, there were some signs of hope. In a round with few exchanges, Mares came out marginally on top. However, if he wanted to win this fight, he required a monumental effort, and a stoppage, in the final round.
The last round of this epic didn’t disappoint. Mares went back to his all-out attack tactic of the opening two rounds and landed a number of decent shots. Santa Cruz, though, didn’t retreat and gave Mares as good as he got until the final bell.
Both men deserved the applause at the end; both men did their country proud; both men truly deserve the title of “warrior”.