Abner Mares dropped a majority decision to Leo Santa Cruz on Aug. 29, 2015, in Los Angeles, but pay little attention to that.
The result matters little. What matters primarily is the fight itself, a high-skill, high-contact battle that lifted the sport. If all fights were as evenly matched and contested as ferociously as that one, boxing would be among the most popular sports in the world.
They’ll go at it again at the Staples Center on Saturday in a rematch for the WBA featherweight title, televised by Showtime. And both men expect a similar kind of battle.
“Once we get into the ring, you already know what it’s going to be,” Mares said. “It was war from the first bell last time. Nothing could stop either of us. We pleased the fans and gave them a great night. This is going to be the same thing. We’re two young fighters fighting for pride.”
Santa Cruz, who has established himself as one of the sport’s top action stars, echoed his friendly rival.
There is no bitterness or anger between them. Each has immense respect for the other’s ability and desire, and they see the rematch as a can’t-miss match as a result.
“Whenever two Mexicans get in there, you know it’s going to be a war,” Santa Cruz said. “I hope everyone comes out because it’s going to be a fight to remember.”
Santa Cruz won the first fight 117-111 on two cards, while the third card was even at 114-114. The difference was that Santa Cruz controlled the distance for much of the bout and was able to land cleaner, sharper shots as a result.
Mares, who has gone 2-0 since losing to Santa Cruz and is now 31-2-1 with 15 knockouts, has hired Robert Garcia as his trainer to clean up some nagging issues.
He knows the burden is on him to lift his game.
“There were things I could have done that would have made that fight easier for myself,” Mares said. “Once you get in there, I know we all have a plan, but once you hear the crowd, it can go out the window. I am a warrior and the type of fighter who’s looking to get the win no matter what.
“I’m not worried about the decision in the first fight. I think he landed the clearer punches, but it was definitely a close fight. I was happy with my performance as far as pleasing the crowd. I’ve moved on to the rematch. I am going to make adjustments and get the win.”
Santa Cruz plans to make a few subtle changes, as well, but one has to love his attitude. He’s not going to go out and put on a clinical, technical performance. He wants to create a buzz in the crowd and the best way to do that is to trade.
Even though he says he’ll box smart, he concedes he’ll fight with pleasing the crowd in mind.
“I have to make some little changes,” Santa Cruz said. “There will be adjustments. We have to be prepared to box. I’ll listen to what my dad tells me to do. We’ll know early and take it from there. I know how to fight different styles, but brawling is what the fans love. I’m going to do that while still being smart in the ring.”
That attitude is what makes fans of this sport for a lifetime. And it’s why the rematch figures to be so compelling, regardless of the stakes. This will be two guys laying it all on the line in search of far more than a win: They’re out to win the crowd, a much harder task.
Both, though, have what it takes to do just that.
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