Photo Credit: Suzanne Theresa/Premier Boxing Champions
LOS ANGELES — Leo Santa Cruz answered his critics in impressive fashion last night with a signature win over a determined Abner Mares. A majority decision (117-111 twice, 114114) in name only, Santa Cruz took over in the middle rounds and never looked back. And in doing so, Santa Cruz showed a previously overlooked trait — the ability to adjust a game plan and outsmart his opponent.
EARLY MAKINGS OF A CLASSIC: From the second the opening bell sounded, Mares was in Santa Cruz’s chest firing off blistering combos to the body and head. Santa Cruz, who’s used to being the aggressor, seemed surprised and unprepared for this strategy. His own offense was being smothered by clinches and rough-housing, and it appeared Mares was utilizing the strategy Shane Mosley had executed in the same building against Antonio Mosley six years earlier.
Unfortunately for Mares, his smaller frame couldn’t maintain the mauling and grueling pace. By the fifth, both fighters were bleeding from accidental butts, but Santa Cruz was the one gradually taking over as Mare’s aggression morphed to backfoot movement and labored counter-punching attempts.
HOW TO COMBINE VOLUME PUNCHING AND COUNTERPUNCHING: Mares’ inside combinations and lead power shots were his early successes, but his lack of creativity became an Achilles Heel over the bout’s second half. Santa Cruz was supposed to be the one-dimensional slugger, but he was the fighter who adjusted his game by relying on his reach to time Mares’ telegraphed overhand rights.
By taking a step backward, Mares was left off-balance and in no-man’s land, where Santa Cruz safely clipped him with counter straight rights and hooks. And when Mares did make it inside, his mauling was nullified by Santa Cruz taking a quick side-step that put Mares out of position and susceptible to uppercuts and short hooks.
The adjustments resulted in Santa Cruz looking like the better technician while still maintaining a grueling pace that resulted in 1057 punches thrown.
THE DOMINANCE: I gave a lot a credit to Mares for his early body punching and had him up 4-2 after six. However, the last round Mares won on my card was the fifth, and Santa Cruz just overwhelmed him down the stretch. The sweep of rounds 6-12 gave Santa Cruz a 116-112 victory on my card.
NEXT ORDER OF BUSINESS: Santa Cruz is now the “super world” WBA featherweight champion and has options. Realistic in-house matchups are a Mares rematch, Julio Ceja (who scored a comeback KO in the co-feature), a unification with WBC titlist Gary Russell Jr., or Carl Frampton, who made his PBC debut last month. I’d prefer Frampton first, as style-wise we’d get an all-action bout with international flair. And Frampton is already on record stating he wants the fight.
JULIO CEJA TKO5 HUGO RUIZ: Julio Ceja peeled himself on the canvas to score a dramatic 5th round TKO over Hugo Ruiz. Ceja struggled with Hugo’s size and was dropped hard by a counter left hook in the third. After being saved by the bell, Ceja regrouped and scored his own knockdown off a left hook. But Ceja would not let his man recover and secured the stoppage with a barrage of power shots on the ropes.
ALEJANDRO LUNA TKO4 SERGIO LOPEZ: Prospect Luna kept his undefeated record (19-0, 14 KOs) by stalking and administering a brutal ending sequence of hooks to force a referee stoppage.
ALFREDO ANGULO RTD5 HECTOR MUNOZ: Alfredo Angulo continued his quiet comeback with an easy corner stoppage win. Munoz declined to come out for the sixth after being bloodied and floored in the previous round.