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Santa Cruz vs Mares II: Fight preview and matchup

Leo Santa Cruz faces Abner Mares again on Saturday.

Leo Santa Cruz

Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Record: 34-1-1 (19 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’7½” / 69” ... Age: 29

Thoughts: Santa Cruz is on his second featherweight title reign, after losing to and then defeating Carl Frampton in 2016-17 in a pair of fights that have Santa Cruz arguably the No. 1 man in the division today.

On Saturday, he goes into another rematch, facing Abner Mares, a man he beat pretty decisively back in 2015. Since beating Mares, Santa Cruz has defeated Kiko Martinez (TKO-5), Frampton (MD-12), and Chris Avalos (KO-8), the last fight coming as a doubleheader with Mares meant to further sell a rematch that frankly didn’t really benefit anyone other than getting Leo and Abner stay-busy wins. I don’t think this fight, coming eight months later, is any hotter a ticket now than it would have been then.

But here we are. In the first fight, Santa Cruz was able to outbox Mares, adjusting well to Mares’ pressure and winning clearly, despite the fact one judge had it a draw. It was also a rough fight, with both cut by headbutts by the time the fight was over.

Santa Cruz is a little younger, and three years in boxing can be huge. He’s also a little longer and taller. He’s also already beaten Mares. He made the adjustments last time. Coming into this fight, it’s Mares who has to adjust.

Abner Mares

Mares vs. Reyes Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Record: 31-2-1 (15 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’4½” / 66” ... Age: 32

Thoughts: Once hyped as Golden Boy’s first homegrown world champion, Mares has moved on to the PBC world in recent years and had sort of an up-and-down run after a great stretch of tough fights from 2010-13.

After his stunning KO-1 loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013, Mares has gone 5-1, but hasn’t always impressed. He beat Jonathan Oquendo and Jose Ramirez (the other one) in 2014, and Arturo Santos Reyes in 2015. Those wins preceded the loss to Santa Cruz in August 2015, back when PBC was still on ESPN, in a much-anticipated fight.

There’s been talk of a rematch ever since, but we’re just now getting there. Mares won a split decision over Jesus Cuellar in December 2016, after a lengthy break from the ring, and then a dominant technical decision over Andres Gutierrez in October 2017, in the fight meant to tune him up for the rematch.

So we’re here now. The big thing to note is not that Mares is small for a featherweight, that’s always been true and he does OK anyway. It’s that Mares is 32 years old and the last time he fought a real world class opponent, with respect to the solid Cuellar, was almost three years ago, and it was this same guy, and Mares lost. It may have been a majority decision, but that’s just because judge Max DeLuca saw an even fight that really wasn’t that even.

Last time, Mares tried to swarm and pressure Santa Cruz, which didn’t really work out for him. Will he change his approach this time? Is there an approach that gives him an advantage? Or is Santa Cruz just a bad matchup for him? We’ll find out.

Matchup Grade: B+. It was a good fight last time, should be a good fight this time. The only thing stopping me from going to an A- is the fact that I suspect this won’t look much different than it did in 2015. But I could be wrong. What do YOU think?


  • Jermell Charlo vs Austin Trout: Charlo (30-0, 15 KO) has been hitting harder than his record suggests, and he talks a great game, just like his twin brother. He’s got star quality. But don’t ignore Trout (31-4, 17 KO), who you will recall gave Jermall Charlo a good test back in 2016, and gave Jarrett Hurd a solid fight before getting stopped in 2017. Trout is 32 and probably past his best days, but he’s a crafty southpaw fighter and can still be a problem. Plus, we’ve seen Jermell struggle against boxers before, back when he won his title against John Jackson. Granted, Jermell knocked Jackson out flat in the end, but he was losing that fight wide at the time of the stoppage, and Trout can take a punch. If Jermell looks good again here, give him credit. But don’t be shocked if Trout presses him into a tough fight. Matchup Grade: B

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