By Francisco Salazar
LOS ANGELES - Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares picked up where they left off from their August 2015 slugfest on Saturday night, but it was deja vu as to what the outcome of the fight was.
Santa Cruz won a 12 round unanimous decision over Mares before a boisterous crowd of 12,505 that was treated to another compelling fight between the two Mexican-American fighters who resides in the Los Angeles area.
With the win, Santa Cruz retains the WBA Super World featherweight title.
Santa Cruz won the first fight by majority decision in a bout that saw more power punches thrown and aggression by the two combatants. Mares, with Robert Garcia now in his corner, promised a more compete attack, one where he would use his technical skill-set to outbox Santa Cruz.
The pace of the fight in the opening round was brisk. Mares was more measured in his attack during the first two fights, as opposed to the first fight, when Mares went on the attack in hopes of knocking Santa Cruz out.
The taller Santa Cruz was effective early on, scoring repeatedly with counter left hooks to the head of Mares. Undaunted, Mares closed the distance, getting on the inside and landing a series of right hands to the head.
Momentum swung Santa Cruz's way during the middle rounds, where Santa Cruz was able to neutralize Mares' offense by throwing repeated jabs and following those punches up with straight right hands to the head.
Santa Cruz had to deal with a cut over his left eye at the beginning of round eight, which was likely from an accidental clash of heads. The cut did not alter or hinder Santa Cruz's game plan.
"A cut is a cut, it's just blood," said Santa Cruz after the fight. "If anything, it brings more hunger out of me."
Sensing he was down in the fight, Mares went for broke during the final round, charging his way in and throwing multiple barrages of punches. Santa Cruz also let his hands go, where both fighters wailed away at one another to the delight of the crowd until the final bell sounded.
Scores were 117-111, 116-112, and 115-113 for Santa Cruz, who improves to 35-1-1, 19 KOs.
According to Sho Stats, Santa Cruz threw 1,061 total punches, connecting on 357 (34 percent). Mares landed 208 of 931 total punches (22 percent).
"It was a great fight," said Santa Cruz. "Another war like we said. I had to be smarter. I had to do what I had to do to win the fight."
"It feels great to get this victory. Abner is a great fighter. He left his heart out there. It was a tough fight, but I thank God we got the victory."
Asked who he would like to fight next, Santa Cruz wants to face WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell, Jr.
"I want Gary Russell. Let's unify. I'm not scared of anybody. Whoever I get, let's go. I'm ready."
Mares was diplomatic in defeat.
"It was a 'Fight of the Year' like I told you guys (before the fight). We come here (and) we pleased the crowd. Win or lose, I don't care. I'm here to please the crowd."
"It is what it is. The judges made their decision. I can't overturn that. It was a close fight. I fought a hard, close fight. I fought my heart out, but at the end of the day, I'm pleased with my performance."
Mares drops to 31-3-1, 15 KOs.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.