Santa Cruz vs. Mares: Sink or Swim for Leo Santa Cruz versus Abner Mares

Lots of leather will be thrown in this featherweight dust-up between Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz. The broadcast will air live in primetime on ESPN/ESPNDeportes from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. The winner will be the King of LA without a crown with only a WBC Diamond trinket on the line. A more fitting label might be the battle to become the “Prince” of Los Angeles. Can Abner get his groove back by digging his way out of the rut he’s been stuck in for two years since suffering a shocking first round defeat to Jhonny Gonzalez? Will Leo sink or swim in his first true test of his career?

Just around two years ago (and 4 days) the stage was being set for a classic west coast matchup between a young slugger named Leo Santa Cruz and a rising star in Abner Mares. Can you hear the song? Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Fill in Abner Mares’s name for Joe’s in that song and it paints a picture of the current state of Abner’s once promising career.

From 2010 to 2013 only Carl Froch can claim a tougher fight schedule. Mares made a name for himself as an aggressive fighter with fast hands and a liver-killer (or lower) of a body puncher. The string of entertaining victories included names such as Anselmo Moreno, Vic Darchinyan, and Joseph Agbeko twice, plus a slew of contenders that had him on the fast track to celebrity in Los Angeles.

His biggest moment came against hardened-veteran fighter Ponce De Leon, who had given Adrien Broner all he could handle at 130 a few years prior. He shined under the bright lights of a Mayweather PPV co-feature in a back and forth affair that saw Mares scoring a 9th TKO.

Three months and change later 7,686 Southern California fight fans were in attendance at the Stub Hub Center for a Showtime Doubleheader aimed at banging the drums for showdown between two in-their-prime Mexican-American warriors.

Santa Cruz did his part by making quick work of Victor Terrazas with a 3rd round stoppage. In the main event it didn’t take long for Jhonny Gonzalez to land a thumping shot on Mares. It came off of a perfectly timed left faint to the body that turned into a left hand to the head in the very first round. Mares showed heart by getting to his feet but it wasn’t long before he hit the floor again causing the referee stopped the fight.

And that result sent Mares’s once promising career into a tail spin that he has yet to fully recover from. A rematch with Gonzalez stalled from a rib injury, a short term change of trainer’s, time out of the ring, and three lackluster performances, has Mares in an unthinkable crossroads fight this Saturday night.

At least Abner has a reason for his recent dissent, were as Leo Santa Cruz has no excuses as to why his star isn’t brighter and his sword isn’t sharper. Al Haymon placed Leo in a witness protection program seemingly to wait for Mares to regroup so he can justify risking his fragile and now dwindling asset.

In late 2012 Santa Cruz looked very beatable against the relatively unknown in Alberto Guevara. For a time Leo was at least facing known fighters past their primes at the 118/122 divisions like Eric Moral and Cristian Mijares. But in the last 16 months or so, Santa Cruz has taken two full steps and a stumble backwards facing cupcake after cupcake and not always looking good in the process.

Gary Russell comes to mind when wondering just how well Santa Cruz will react when his opponent hits back harder. Russell looked in over his head versus Lomachenko and one can’t help to wonder if Leo freezes up in such a large step up without having already faced some sort of adversity thus far.

Obviously the skill and experience of Abner Mares gives him a decisive edge regardless of what the boxing betting odds tell us. Some media members and fans are lukewarm on this fight because of the long wait. I don’t see it that way for a few reasons.

One, Abner Mares was moved slowly back because of a shocking 1st round KO. Two, he looked stuck between styles and mediocre three fights in a row. Haymon is not the only guy to carefully guide a boxer back to form and most promoters/managers would have done the same thing in those circumstances.

This scribe thinks it’s actually much closer to being a 50-50 outcome now that Mares has seemed tentative in the ring, something that will haunt him in there with a guy like Santa Cruz. No, it’s not the ideal way to hype a potential fight of the year candidate and heading into fight week the Canelo/Cotto frenzy has stolen the news headlines. But come Saturday night the Staples Center will be rocking and the twitter-sphere will be fully attentive.

The jab will be a crucial point of emphasis for both men in this closely contested bout. Mares will use his jab to help slow the attack of combinations coming his way. For Leo that jab will allow him to get on the inside and set up his power punches. Both guys work their opponent’s midsection as good as any in the sport so the potential for a shot to the liver changing momentum of this fight is relatively high.

This fight will feature plenty of good exchanges as both of these boxers thrive in the pocket. Mares will live up to his boxer/puncher style by blending activity with angles. Leo Santa Cruz’s one-dimension is very effective and will win him large portions of the bout. However, Abner’s ability to work on the inside and outside should prove worthy of a victory. In the second half of the fight, look for Mares to land the cleaner shots on Santa Cruz.
My official prediction is Abner Mares by Majority Decision

SideNote: The PBC on ESPN Co-Feature pits Hugo Ruiz against Julio Cesar Ceja. Neither guy is known in the States but that won’t prevent it from being a great fight. Ceja is a very aggressive fighter which should mesh well with Ruiz’s skill set. Both guys have good power so it should be bombs away and possibly the best fight of the night.

Written by Chris Carlson Owner & Host of Rope-A-Dope-Radio

Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio


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