By Keith Idec
Leo Santa Cruz expects to encounter a smarter, more tactical Abner Mares when they fight again June 9 in Los Angeles.
Santa Cruz won their first fight by majority decision, yet even Mares admits he lost that 12-round fight for the WBA “super” world featherweight title in August 2015. They thoroughly entertained fans that attended that battle at Staples Center, the same site where their rematch will be held, but Mares wasn’t pleased with his performance.
The three-division champion later hired Robert Garcia to train him. The 2004 Mexican Olympian has since committed to boxing more and slugging less, a style Santa Cruz anticipates Mares using against him in their 12-round rematch for Santa Cruz’s WBA “super” featherweight title.
“I think that Abner is going to be a little smarter than the first fight,” Santa Cruz said during a press conference Tuesday in Los Angeles. “He said in the first fight he didn’t train for the right fight. I know Robert Garcia will have him bring a smarter fight. We’ll be able to adjust and do what we have to do to win this one.”
In his first fight with Garcia in his corner, the 32-year-old Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs) dropped Argentina’s Jesus Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs) in the 11th round and defeated him by split decision in December 2016 in Los Angeles. Mares, of Montebello, California, won a technical decision over Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez (35-2-1, 25 KOs) in his last fight, October 14 in Carson, California.
“I can talk about how I’ve changed, but you just need to look at my last two performances,” Mares said. “People thought Jesus Cuellar was going to knock me out, but I was the one who dropped him. That lets you know what type of team I have and what kind of Abner Mares you will see on June 9th.”
Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs) recognizes he’ll have to take a different approach, too, if he is to defeat Mares again. The 29-year-old, three-division champion from Rosemead, California, proved his ability to win while employing a more tactical style when he out-pointed Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton (24-1, 14 KOs) by majority decision in their WBA featherweight championship rematch in January 2017 in Las Vegas.
“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.”
Showtime will televise the Santa Cruz-Mares rematch as part of a doubleheader June 9. In the opening bout, Houston’s Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs) will make an optional defense of his WBC super welterweight title against Austin Trout (31-4, 17 KOs), a former WBA super welterweight champ from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.