The rematch between Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares takes place this Saturday night on Showtime, live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Their first meeting back in the summer of 2015 was entertaining and produced one of the better fights of the year. Although Leo won convincingly despite one of the judges scoring a draw, it will be interesting to see if Mares can make an adjustment. The battle to be King of LA is on the line as well, which means a whole lot to both men.
Considering the first fight was solid, surprisingly many fight fans are labeling the rematch as worthless. I can understand the sentiment to an extent but the hate for this rematch seems a touch over the top. It’s not as though the powers that be forced an automatic rematch down our throats. Based on the drawing power of their first tilt, it would’ve been easy to milk another one quickly.
Looking back on that late August 2015 bout, we got a chance to see Leo Santa Cruz in his first true test. Obviously, Santa Cruz passed with flying colors but that’s not to say it didn’t come without adversity. Right out of the gate Abner Mares jumped on Leo not allowing him much breathing room to operate. It was easy to see Leo was bothered by Mares’ pressure and rough inside fighting. At times early, Leo looked to the referee to bail him out. After a few rounds, Santa Cruz fought fire with fire, managing to create enough separation to get his offense off.
Then Leo showed us all that he wasn’t just another volume puncher with a padded record. Santa Cruz began to use his reach and length which changed the trajectory of the fight. Leo boxed smartly without losing much volume and kept Mares at bay for large chunks of the fight. In spots, the fans still got what they expected, with both warriors throwing bombs to close rounds. Overall it was a competitive but clear victory for Santa Cruz.
Since that outcome, Abner Mares joined forces with well-respected trainer Robert Garcia for a change of pace and game plan. Mares looked pretty damn good against Jesus Cuellar, a hard-nosed puncher many assumed would beat Abner. Instead of a face-first, reckless Mares, we got a glance at the skills he has always had in the arsenal. If Mares can bring a different look to the 2nd meeting it could make for a closer contest.
Leo Santa Cruz hit the ground running after proving many wrong versus Mares. After dispatching Kiko Martinez, Leo fought Carl Frampton at the Barclays Center in July 2016. Carl Frampton walked away as the better man that night. Heading into that rematch, many were basically handing the victory to the 2016 Fighter of the Year Carl Frampton. Some didn’t think Leo could do anything to change the result.
As we know very well, fighters can use excuses for losing instead of facing facts. Sometimes it’s just an excuse, while other times there is a legit reason to why a fighter didn’t perform up to standard. Leo’s father was not in training camp due to his fight with cancer. Prior to the rematch, Leo would explain how missing his father in camp greatly affected him and how training camp for the Frampton rematch would be different. Leo claimed he had trained to come forward and had tunnel vision so when his father tried to make adjustments, Leo wasn’t up to the task.
Having seen the 2nd bout with Frampton, Leo’s reasoning for a subpar outing was 100% real, not an excuse. With that framework established it’s up to Abner Mares to peel another layer to his game in order to pull off the upset.
Addressing the hate for this matchup, in case the media and fans forgot, Abner Mares was called for Leo’s mandatory challenger. So to keep his belt he had to take the Mares fight. Add that to the style matchup that was already proven to be exciting to watch, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to why so many want to dump on the fight. Many of whom preach consistently on boxing twitter that they want to see action fight only. This hack-of-a-scribe isn’t trying to make out like this is a fight of the decade.
My main point is anytime we get to see two quality fighters in the ring you’re not going get too much complaint from this guy. Some of us have been watching this sport too long to bitch about a good style-matchup that will once against drawing a healthy crowd to the Staples Center.
Having said all that, it’s difficult not to favor the younger, fresher fighter in Leo, who already beat Mares. As we learned in the Frampton rematch and countless other fights through the years, anything can and will happen.
The best way for Abner Mares to get his hand raised will be to summon his impressive display of skills versus Ponce De Leon. If Mares can blend quick combo punching behind a jab with outside movement, he just may be able to flip the script. Sharply timed pot-shots with the right hand and an exit route to keep Leo guessing could do the trick. Carl Frampton was successful in sticking to a smart game plan but also attacked Leo.
What we do know is Abner Mares is very capable of making subtle changes to his strategy. What we don’t know for a fact is if it will be enough to be victorious.
From the Leo perspective, look for Santa Cruz to use a stiff and active jab as he sets up his power punches to the head and body. You can fully expect, regardless of the end product, that Leo will keep a high work rate and at some point end up in a fair amount of exchanges.
This fight will play out very similar to the first go round, giving fight fans a variety of looks. In the start, it will be way more measured than before, especially from Mares. It will be a duel of skills mixed with some good old fashion bombs-away brawling. Although, Leo is the favorite, don’t be surprised to see an even tighter rematch, one that warrants close scorecards.
My Official Prediction is Leo Santa Cruz by Majority Decision.
Side Note: Terrence Crawford’s first fight at 147 will not be televised. Instead his bout against Jeff Horn will be broadcast on the ESPN+ app. Horn is a good measuring stick to see how Crawford will fit in at the highly talented welterweight division.
Written by Chris Carlson Host/Producer of The Rope A Dope Radio Podcast Available at www.blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & TheGruelingTruth.Net. Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio