By Cliff Rold
26-year old 2004 Mexican Olympian and reigning WBC Super Bantamweight champion Abner Mares (24-0-1, 13 KO) of Montebello, California, won a unanimous decision Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles over WBA Bantamweight Champion Anselmo Moreno (33-2-1, 12 KO) of in a fight that live up to its pre-fight billing. Hotly contested at the highest world-class levels throughout, Mares dropped Moreno for the first time in his career in round five and worked through being hurt twice in the second half of the fight to score the hard earned victory.
Mares, a former IBF Bantamweight titlist as well, makes his first defense of the then-vacant WBC belt he won earlier this year against former Flyweight titlist Eric Morel. Moreno is added to a list of conquered foes that also includes Joseph Agbeko and Vic Darchinyan as Mares continues the work of taking the fights that signal a fighter seeking the toughest paths available.
Moreno, who retains the WBA Bantamweight belt, acquitted himself well even as he fell short of victory. It was the rare night where two men in their prime faced off and proved themselves worthy of the praise they’d earned in the build. Someone had to lose.
Mares did everything he could to make sure it wasn’t him. Now he wants the biggest prize left in his division: Nonito Donaire.
Both men weighed in below the division limit of 122 lbs., Mares at 121 ¾ and Moreno at 120 ¾. The referee was Raul Caiz Jr.
The fight started, appropriately, with Mares firing and the southpaw Moreno slipping. Moreno was prepared to use his feet and Mares was all over him, landing a left hook and forcing an exchange near the ropes. Moreno moved to make space and landed a booming right to the belly. Using his jab, Moreno painted Mares and landed a straight left to the face. Mares rushed forward, shoving Moreno to the floor and Mares received a stern warning. Moreno bounced up, sticking the jab and landing another straight left. Mares dove in, landing a pair of low blows in close. When he tried it again, Moreno rode him and tossed him to the floor.
Both men landed straight body punches early in the second, Mares staying the aggressor. Moreno landed a quick combination upstairs. Mares looked for the body but found elbows. Both men let their hands go as Moreno went to the ropes, Moreno trying to establish his counter uppercut. Mares landed a hard right hand late in a competitive frame.
Moreno landed first in the third with a touching left. Mares let loose a combination to the body and Moreno responded with two stiff lefts downstairs of his own. Moreno launched another left to the body and then one upstairs. With Moreno coming forward, Mares was left to eat left hands and quickly changed direction, coming forward and throwing to the body. Moreno was warned for pushing when trapped in the corner but used the break as a chance to go back to mid-ring. Moreno landed more, if not too hard, down the stretch as Mares tried to get close.
Chasing a bicycling Moreno, Mares landed a hard elbow and left hook near the ropes and then a right moments later. The pace slowed near the halfway mark and Moreno came forward, his left hand finding the face of Moreno and Mares let loose a combination that strayed low. Moreno was warned for pushing the head down, Mares for the low contact, and action resumed after Moreno caught his breath. Mares ended the round with a rapid assault.
Mares busted Moreno with a hard right hand to the head about a minute into the fifth after a stilted start to the round. Moreno controlled most of the second half of the round but Mares closed stronger and hurt Moreno late with a stiff right hand. Moreno went down and Caiz gave a count. Moreno rose from what was his first professional knockdown but looked shaken as the bell rang to send him to the corner.
Mares was all over Moreno to start the sixth, Moreno appearing rocked by a left to the head. Moreno couldn’t get off the ropes as Moreno covered up and looked to survive. Moreno maneuvered to mid ring, landing a straight left. Mares walked into a lead right and took another as he bodied Moreno to the ropes. Moreno landed another right hook off the ropes and then a three-punch combination to the head. Mares landed a booming right and Moreno was stunned again, nodding to acknowledge the blow. Moreno tried to tie up but Mares kept landing and the momentum of the fight went firmly to the corner of Mares.
Both men landed nasty right hands after a measured first minute in the seventh, Moreno following with a couple glancing uppercuts. He landed another left uppercut only to find Mares’s right hand against his cheek again. Moreno used a jab to open up a left hand and Mares replied with a shot to the back. Moreno was given a break and the pace stayed controlled down the stretch, Moreno landing a quick left before the bell.
Both men came out jabbing in the eighth, Moreno landing a left before Mares got him going back again with body shots. Moreno got away with a low shot as he tried to create space but Mares wasn’t having it. A harsh right shot the head of Moreno sideways near the ropes. Moreno turned away from the ropes and right hook seemed to stun Mares. Suddenly it was Mares in the corner, Moreno landing some of his best stuff of the night only for Mares to explode out with a buckling right hand. Moreno and Mares exchanged their best power stuff in the closing seconds of a fantastic round.
Moreno landed a left to open the ninth and Mares charged with three right hands. Mares landed a body shot and Moreno patted his belly with bravado. They each had their moments on offense, both landing some hard body shots but Mares firing more. Moreno closed the round knocking Moreno off balance with a left, the fight forcing the best from both men.
It was Mare with the right hook drawing a shake of the head from Moreno early in the tenth. Moreno landed a right and left as Mares charged forward and continued to peck away. Mares attacked to the body and Moreno was warned for pushing. Both men landed to the body and Mares stayed in pursuit. Moreno landed two rights in close and then two thudding body blows. Both men landed rights to the head before struggling to land for most of the final seconds. Moreno did manage a right hand to the body to knock Mares off balance.
Moreno started with the jab in eleven, circling and forcing Mares to chase. Moreno pushed down the head of Mares in the corner and lost a point after multiple warnings, ignoring the head first lunging of Mares that appeared to be causing some of the problem. Moreno rallied to box well for the rest of the round, hurting Mares late with a right to the body and adding some more telling blows to possibly force an even score in the round.
Mares came out aggressive to start the final round, Moreno using his right hand to keep room. Moreno jogged a bit with Mares running after him and winging wildly for a comedic moment in an intense affair. Moreno landed two lefts to the head but with a minute to go needed more. Mares got away with another shot in the back and continued to come forward. A winging Moreno left landed and then an uppercut. Moreno closed the round with another straight left on the button as Mares flailed away and the fight went to the judge’s cards.
The first half seemed to favor Mares, the second Moreno, and there was real drama as the scores were awaited. The drama was quickly dissipated as Mares got the nod at two reasonable scores of 116-110 and an absurd 120-106 for Dr. James Jen-Kin. BoxingScene scored the contest 114-113 for Moreno but in a close fight, the official verdict merits respect. One bad card doesn’t undo two rational results.
Both fighters showed class in post-fight comments. Mares felt his pressure had worked for him and blamed himself for moments where Moreno took control. “The only times where he was taking advantage was when I was waiting too long. That was my fault for letting him do that but…I felt good. I felt strong. A great champion Anselmo Moreno; I don’t take anything away from him.”
Mares looked to the future towards a fight many fans would hotly anticipate. “I want to fight Nonito Donaire. That’s the only guy to fight…We want to fight the best. We want to continue to step up and fight the best. I think it’s up to Nonito’s promotion.” Donaire, who holds the IBF and WBO titles in the division and is recognized as the lineal champion, currently has a date with faded veteran Jorge Arce in December in a fight he’ll enter as a prohibitive favorite.
Mares will be waiting when that matter is concluded.
Speaking through a translator, a disappointed Moreno gave credit to Mares for having the better night even as he expressed some frustration with the wide scores. Moreno said he will discuss matters with his family before deciding whether or not to continue at 122 lbs. or return to resume his reign at 118.
In the featured undercard contest, 24-year old Mexican IBF Bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13 KO), 117 ½, of Lincoln Heights, California, made his second successful knockout title defense, scoring three knockdowns over nine rounds to end a valiant challenge from 25-year old Victor Zaleta (20-3-1, 10 KO), 117, of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It was the first stoppage loss of Zaleta’s career.
Santa Cruz began, as always, coming forward and wasted little time putting his left to the body into play. Moving Zaleta to the ropes near the end of the first minute, Santa Cruz raked with a stiff right cross to the face and Zaleta wisely circled away from the strands. Showing no give, Zaleta met Santa Cruz’s fire with fire, going to the body and working in sharp right uppercuts to the head. The result was a high volume opening frame both ways.
The relentless Santa Cruz blasted Zaleta with a left to the head early in round two and did it again not long after, body punching coloring the offense in between. Trapping Zaleta on the ropes, Santa Cruz got through the guard with rights to the face and, as had been the case the round before, Zaleta fought back hard. He couldn’t slow Santa Cruz down, but he was staying in the fight.
Zaleta stayed there and more in the third, battling back against the steady drumbeat of Santa Cruz’s ever moving hands. The fight continued at the thrilling pace set from the opening, Santa Cruz landing more but Zaleta getting more than his fair share including a stiff, clean right counterpunch to the head off the ropes.
At times in round four, it looked like Zaleta was verging on being overwhelmed and then Santa Cruz lowered the boom. Visibly stunned twice earlier with head shots, it was a left to the body that sent Zaleta teetering backwards towards the ropes and finally to the floor. Zaleta beat the count and had to be relived to hear the bell before Santa Cruz could land again.
The 60-second breather served Zaleta well, the challenger showing no quit and using his legs to create some room early. The accurate, heavy-handed assault of Santa Cruz continued but Zaleta was there with counters. Zaleta was less lively in the sixth but the fight’s breakneck pace showed no signs of abetting.
Round seven opened with Santa Cruz ripping shots to Zaleta near the ropes. Zaleta moved away and punched in spots but his offense was eroding along with his body. Santa Cruz landed a series of blows to send Zaleta to his knees inside the final minute and it appeared the end might be at hand. Zaleta, still full of courage, rose and nodded to go on. He let his hands go to show it but ended the round being blasted with shots. Referee Ray Corona kept an eagle eye on the action and looked ready to stop it but Zaleta stayed up and made it to the corner.
Round eight got no better for Zaleta, his competitiveness gone even if his guts remained on display. The beating would go on for only a little longer in round nine, a right hand to the face catching Zaleta flush and sending him to the deck for the third time. Zaleta laid back beneath the ropes, his face a mask of pain, and Corona quickly waved the fight closed at 1:42 of round nine.
Santa Cruz turned his attentions to the main event in the post-fight interviews, stating he’d like to take a couple more fights to “grow into my body” and then move up to 122 lbs. Santa Cruz versus Mares might be one to look for down the road. With Mares eyeing Donaire, perhaps a showdown with Moreno could gin up interest for later on.
In the televised opener, 30-year old Jr. Middleweight Alfredo Angulo (21-2, 18 KO), 154, of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, made a successful return from a knockout loss to James Kirkland in November 2011 and a lengthy detainment for immigration issues with a one-punch knockout in the first minute of round one against 25-year old Raul Casarez (19-3, 9 KO), 153 ¾, of Edinburg, Texas.
Both men came out behind their jabs, Casarez showing just a bit more speed. It didn’t mean much. Willing to stay inside, Casarez tried to get off some combinations to get Angulo’s respect. Angulo seized the opportunity his opponent was providing, taking some sharp shots and responding with exact effect. Casarez attempted a right cross, the blow glancing off the top of Angulo’s head, and followed with a wide left hook. Angulo launched a short left hook of his own and found the target first, Casarez dropping hard to his back. Struggling to rise, Casarez could not beat the count of referee Jose Cobian and was counted out at :56 seconds of round one.
Interviewed in the ring after the fight, an emotional Angulo expressed relief at being back in the ring and reflected that he always knew he could come back from the Kirkland loss. He has taken the first step.
The card was televised in the U.S on Showtime as part of its “Championship Boxing” series, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]