By Keith Idec

Leo Santa Cruz understands why Abner Mares is perceived to be a big underdog against Gervonta Davis.

Spending 24 rounds in the ring with Mares has given Santa Cruz a great appreciation of his rival’s heart and ability, though. That’s why Santa Cruz considers Mares a very live underdog against a powerful southpaw who’s commonly considered one of boxing’s emerging stars.

The Davis-Mares match will headline a “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event February 9 at Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center) in Carson, California.

“It’s a tough fight for Mares because of the weight advantage,” Santa Cruz told regarding Mares’ move up from 126 pounds to 130. “Davis is gonna be the bigger guy. He’s gonna be maybe 150 pounds. And that’s gonna be a disadvantage for Mares, because if he gets caught with a big punch, I think he could get dropped or something.

“But I think Mares, with his pressure and experience and the heart he has, I think he could give Davis a tough fight and even beat him. But Mares has to be really careful and not get caught with those big shots.”

The undefeated Davis, 24, has knocked out 19 of his 20 professional foes.

In his last fight, Davis destroyed Jesus Cuellar to win the WBA’s “super” super featherweight title. Baltimore’s Davis dropped Argentina’s Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs) once in the second round and twice during the third round on his way to winning by third-round technical knockout April 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

In December 2016, Mares edged Cuellar by split decision in their 12-rounder. The 33-year-old Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), of Downey, California, floored Cuellar in the 11th round of that bout en route to taking the WBA world featherweight title from him at USC’s Galen Center in Los Angeles.

Their disparate performances versus Cueller didn’t deter Mares from demanding the Davis fight. Many boxers would’ve sought an easier fight in a return from a 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to Santa Cruz on June 9 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“It shows that he’s looking for big things,” Santa Cruz said. “He wants to continue to grow his legacy. He wants to show that he’s one of the best. And to do that, he has to step up and fight the bigger opponents. It just shows that he has heart, and he has the will and the desire to go out there and challenge anyone.”

The 30-year-old Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs), of Rosemead, California, will return to the ring a week later. The WBA “super” world featherweight champion is scheduled to defend his 126-pound crown against Houston’s Miguel Flores (23-2, 11 KOs) in the main event of a “Premier Boxing Champions on FOX” telecast February 16 from Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.