Leo Santa Cruz wins rematch with Abner Mares by unanimous decision
LOS ANGELES — Leo Santa Cruz knew he couldn’t claim to be the world’s best featherweight until he proved he was the best featherweight in Los Angeles.
With smarts, strength and craftiness, Santa Cruz outfought Abner Mares once again.
Santa Cruz beat Mares in an entertaining unanimous decision for the second time Saturday night, defending his WBA featherweight title.
Santa Cruz (35-1-1) matched Mares’ fierce pace and rallied from an unsteady start to win the rematch of his 2015 bout with Mares (31-3-1), his fellow Southern Californian. Santa Cruz made clever adjustments and used his superior reach to keep Mares outside of his ideal punching range into the final rounds before getting the comfortable decision.
“It was a great fight — another war,” Santa Cruz said. “I had to be smarter. … Abner is a great fighter. He left his heart out there.”
The judges scored it 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 for Santa Cruz. The Associated Press scored it 116-112 for Santa Cruz.
Jermell Charlo also defended his WBC super welterweight title with a majority decision over veteran Austin Trout at Staples Center, where Santa Cruz and Mares also fought to a decision nearly three years ago.
Santa Cruz and Mares put on a show that was at least as entertaining as their first meeting. Santa Cruz earned his third straight victory overall since taking the only loss of his career against Carl Frampton in 2016.
Santa Cruz avenged that loss, and he affirmed his superiority over Mares. He hopes his next step is a unification bout with WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. for divisional superiority.
“Hopefully I am (the best featherweight in the world),” Santa Cruz said. “But I leave it to the fans to say who is the best. … I want Gary Russell. Let’s unify. I’m not scared of anybody.”
Their first bout was action-packed, and Santa Cruz and Mares began their rematch at a frantic tempo. They traded big shots from the opening round, with Mares finding early success in getting inside Santa Cruz’s superior reach to land punches on the body and chin.
Santa Cruz appeared to struggle a bit early, but found his range and rhythm before too long. Santa Cruz developed a cut near his eye in the seventh round, but he also landed a series of hooks and did damage to Mares.
“A cut is a cut,” Santa Cruz said. “It’s just blood. If anything, it brings more hunger out of me.”
Mares had a strong ninth round, but Santa Cruz remained active and appeared to win the 10th and 11th rounds. The lively crowd of 12,505 gave a standing ovation to both fighters before the 12th round and again after the final bell.
“Without a doubt, Leo is the No. 1 featherweight in the world,” Mares said. “I said before the fight that the winner of this would be the best in the world. I take my hat off to him.”
In the penultimate bout, Charlo (31-0) knocked down Trout twice and kept his 154-pound belt in relative comfort.
He won 118-108 and 115-111 on two scorecards, while judge Fernando Villareal curiously had it 113-113. The AP gave it 117-109 to Charlo, who was booed heavily by the Los Angeles crowd despite his solid performance. The jeering continued while Charlo left the ring, and he exchanged insults with fans.
“I already knew Trout was going to come in and try to survive,” Charlo said. “Trout wasn’t going down like that. He’s a veteran. He’s a real fighter, but I don’t know what the judges were looking at. I won that fight.”
Charlo knocked down Trout (31-5) in the third with a sharp combination while Trout’s legs were splayed. Trout still put on a resourceful performance despite Charlo’s apparent advantages in hand speed and athleticism, attempting to outbox Charlo from the outside and slickly avoiding most power exchanges.
Charlo was credited with another knockdown when Trout went to a knee just 10 seconds into the ninth round after a punch from Charlo flew wildly over his head.
Trout, the former WBA 154-pound champ with a victory over Miguel Cotto on his resume, also went the distance with Charlo’s twin brother, Jermall, in 2016, also losing a decision.
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