By Keith Idec
Leo Santa Cruz expects Abner Mares to fight smarter in their upcoming rematch than he did during their first fight.
Santa Cruz also is confident that he’s a much more complete boxer than he was the first time he and Mares met. Santa Cruz loves fighting in the most fan-friendly way, yet proved during his rematch against Carl Frampton that he can box in a disciplined manner to make it easier to win.
“I’ve learned a lot since the first Mares fight,” Santa Cruz said during an open workout recently in Los Angeles. “I’ve learned how to adjust during a fight better. I’m a more complete fighter and it’s going to help me look even better this time.”
The 29-year-old Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs), the WBA’s “super” featherweight champion, appeared to defeat Mares pretty convincingly in their August 2015 fight at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Two judges – Steve Morrow and Jesse Reyes – credited him with winning nine of the 12 rounds that night (117-111). The other judge, Max DeLuca, scored it even (114-114), thus Santa Cruz had to settle for a majority-decision win.
Santa Cruz, of Rosemead, California, lost a majority decision and his title to Frampton by majority decision two fights later. He bounced back in their immediate rematch to win a majority decision and regained his crown.
Mares will attempt to become the WBA’s true champion at 126 pounds when he faces Santa Cruz again June 9 at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Showtime).
“I think Abner has looked better in recent fights, but not so much that he looks unbeatable or anything,” Santa Cruz said. “He’s shown some improvements but I feel I’ve gotten much better as well. It’s going to be a great fight and I’m going to come out victorious.”
The 32-year-old Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs), of Montebello, California, has won his two fights since Santa Cruz beat him. In his first fight following that defeat, Mares ended a 15-month layoff by dropping Jesus Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs) in the 11th round and beating the Argentine veteran by split decision to capture the WBA world featherweight title.
“He says he’s going to box me more this time, but it’s easier to say that than do it,” Santa Cruz said. “When you get in the ring and hear the fans, they make you want to brawl. Once you hear the crowd you want to entertain them. You love to hear the people scream. I’m going to try to go out there and give the fans a great fight like I always do. I feel like I’m in great condition right now. I feel a lot stronger and even my dad has told me this is as good as he’s seen me look.
“I’m still as motivated as ever. I have the same hunger as if this fight was for my first title. I never underestimate anyone and always give it my all in the gym. It’s no different heading into this one.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.