LOS ANGELES– In an electrifying war that had the STAPLES Center crowd on its feet chanting for more, Leo Santa Cruz defended his WBA Featherweight World Championship by winning a unanimous decision against four-division world champion Abner Mares in their rematch Saturday night on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING®.
In almost an exact replica stat-wise of the first fight that Santa Cruz won by majority decision in 2015, the Los Angeles-native and three-division world champion Santa Cruz won on all three of the judges’ scorecards against Mares by scores of 115-113, 116-112, and 117-111.
With the win, Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs) takes one more step toward a possible unification fight in the competitive 126-pound division, one of boxing’s deepest.
“It feels great,” Santa Cruz said. “Abner is a great fighter. He left his heart out there. It was a tough fight but thank God we got the victory. I had to be smarter, that’s why it was not a bigger war but it was a good one.”
Similar to the first time the two Mexican-American warriors met, which resulted in more than 2,000 punches being thrown, a total of 1,992 totals punches were thrown in Saturday’s fight with Santa Cruz throwing 1,061 to Mares’ 931. Santa Cruz landed 357 punches compared to 208 for Mares.
Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs) started fast, winning the first two rounds on SHOWTIME’s unofficial scorer Steve Farhood’s card before Santa Cruz kicked it in another gear and went to work.
“It was a ‘Fight of the Year’ like I told you,” said Mares. “I hope you like the fight because we fought for you, Los Angeles. Win or lose, we did it for the fans. It was a great fight.”
He added: “It is what it is. I don’t want to discuss scores. The judges decided that, and that’s it. I’ll do it again. Let’s do it again. Mares-Santa Cruz 3.”
In what SHOWTIME announcer Mauro Ranallo termed a “Featherweight Fiesta,” Santa Cruz dictated the pace from the third round on, utilizing his reach and working off the jab.
Santa Cruz suffered a cut above his left eye in the eighth round. “A cut is a cut, it wasn’t bothering me as much,” Santa Cruz said. “I didn’t let that distract me. I had cuts before. You keep on fighting.”
Mares, a former three-division world champion and a veteran of 10 world championship fights, had famed trainer Robert Garcia in his corner for this fight. “I said it before the fight: whoever wins this fight will be the number one featherweight. Santa Cruz won so he’s No. 1. I tip my hat off to him.”
When asked if he’s the No. 1 featherweight in the division, Santa Cruz replied: “Hopefully I am. I’ll leave it to the fans to decide. I want Gary Russell Jr. next. I want to unify. I’m ready for everyone, whoever and whenever.”
In the co-main event of the doubleheader, Jermell Charlo (31-0, 15 KOs) recorded a majority decision victory by outpointing former world champion Austin Trout (31-5, 17 KOs) to defend his WBC Super Welterweight World Championship. Charlo’s four-fight knockout streak ended in his third world title defense. Two judges scored it 118-108 and 115-111 in favor of Charlo, and third scored it 113-113.
“Sometimes you knock them out, sometimes you just beat them.” said Charlo, who has now defended his 154-pound title three times. “I went to fish, I tried to get some trout but I couldn’t catch him on the hook. I know they’re used to seeing me knock boys out but at least they saw me take care of business.”
Charlo recorded two knockdowns in the bout. Trout hit the canvas for the first time in the final minute of the third round as Charlo applied heavy pressure, first connecting on a big right followed by a counter left hook that knocked Trout off balance. Just eight seconds into the ninth, Trout went to one knee on a Charlo left hook to the side of Trout’s head. It was the sixth time Trout had been down in his career. Charlo continued to exert punishment on the game but tiring Trout.
“Take those knockdowns away I won the fight,” said the southpaw Trout, 32, who also went the distance in a unanimous-decision loss against Jermell’s twin brother and interim middleweight titleholder Jermall in 2016. “I can’t make any excuses, the better man won with those knockdowns.
“Both Jermell and Jermall are really good. They are the future. But I’m not done yet. I’m not defined by my results. I’m defined by the risks I take. I’ve taken the risks and I’ve stood my ground every time against giants and killers. And I’m still here.”
More accurate than Trout connecting on his punches the entire fight, Charlo went on a relentless attack in the 10th, connecting on multiples power punches that seemed to faze Trout. Charlo continued his attack in the 11th and 12th, choosing to stay upstairs as opposed to going to the body.
“Trout will tell you who will win that fight,” Charlo said of a potential unification with IBF and WBA 154-pound titleholder Jarret Hurd. “That’s why he survived 12. If Hurd sat in front of me and took those shots he’s done.”
During the SHOWTIME BOXING CHAMPIONSHIP telecast it was announced that WBC Lightweight World Champion Mikey Garcia and IBF Lightweight World Champion Robert Easter Jr. will meet in a 135-pound unification showdown between unbeaten stars Saturday, July 28 live on SHOWTIME from STAPLES Center.
“We were fighting at 140 but I always had my mind set act coming back to lightweight,” Garcia said. “The only fight that made sense was a unification and the fighter available was Robert Easter Jr. He’s a champion and the man to beat. It’s great to be back to finally give my fans here in Southern California a fight. Now that we are I get to give them a unification match and the biggest fight of my career to date.”
“I got my fight on July 28, but there’s been a lot of talk about [Vasyl] Lomachenko and me over the past year. If I get through Robert Easter I’d be unified champ and the only other fight that makes sense is Lomachenko,” he added.
Easter recently changed trainers and is now working with Kevin Cunningham. “Lomachenko and Mikey are two skillful guys in the lightweight division and two guys I want to fight,” Easter said. “Me and Mikey will do the talking in the ring. My height and my reach will give anyone problems as long as I use them skillfully.”