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Mares expects Santa Cruz bout to be ‘Fight of the Year’

Abner MaresBy Dan Ambrose: WBC super bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17 KOs) and former three division world champion Abner Mares (29-1-1, 15 KOs) will be fighting it out for the WBA Super World featherweight title this Saturday night on Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

This is one of the World Boxing Association’s two world titles at 126 that they’ll be fighting for. The WBA “regular” featherweight title is currently held by Jesus Andres Cuellar.

The title Santa Cruz and Mares will be fighting for is the one that was previously held by Nicholas Walters, who failed to make weight for his fight against Miguel Marriaga last June and lost the title.

The 29-year-old Mares sees his fight against Santa Cruz as being potentially a ‘Fight of the Year’ type of an affair. If that’s going to be the case then Mares is going to need to raise his game considerably because he hasn’t looked like a top notch fighter since his 9th round stoppage win over Daniel Ponce De Leon two years ago in May of 2013. Since that fight, Mares was knocked out in the 1st round by Jhonny Gonzalez in August 2013.

Mares then took 11 months off and looked poor in beating Jonathan Oquendo in July 2014 in winning an unimpressive 10 round decision. Mares followed that up with wins over Jose Ramirez and Arturo Santos Reyes. Both of those guys were weak opponents like Oquendo.

Mares has basically not been in a tough fight for the last two years, and he failed in that fight in getting stoppage by Gonzalez. I doubt that the Santa Cruz vs. Mares fight will be ‘Fight of the Year’ like Mares says.

“My loss is completely forgotten. In life you have obstacles, especially in this sport. I’m over it,” Santa Cruz said via ESPN.com. “I’m back. It’s time. It’s time to give everybody a ‘Fight of the Year’. There’s no doubt. I’m going to go in there and have fun.”

If Mares does win the fight, then hopefully he doesn’t waste another two years fighting tune-ups like we just saw because that was really disappointing to watch. One tune-up should have been enough for Mares to shake off the effects of his 1st round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez, but for him to burn through two years of his career fighting tune-ups, it’s been a real waste. Mares has since been passed up by other fighters like Vasyl Lomachenko, Gary Russell Jr., Lee Selby and Jesus Andres Cuellar in the featherweight division. Even if Mares does beat Santa Cruz, he’ll be seen as a paper champion by a lot of boxing fans.

Selby, the IBF featherweight champion, will be at the fight on Saturday to scout out Mares and Santa Cruz as potential opponents in a unification fight. Just when Selby will get a shot at the winner of the Mares vs. Santa Cruz fight is unknown, because we’ll likely see Mares and Santa Cruz facing each other in a rematch if their fight is competitive. Even if it’s not competitive, we’ll likely see a rematch between them if the ratings are high for the fight.

“I’ve definitely faced tougher opponents than he has,” Mares said. “I’ve been in against legitimate champions. I’m taking him to deep waters. I’m going to beat him and I know I’m going to get it done.”

Of course, Mares has fought better opposition than Santa Cruz during his career, but he’s also taken a lot of punishment in those fights, and he may not be young enough to beat the taller, younger, and stronger Santa Cruz. Mares has the hand speed advantage, but I don’t know that he’s going to be able to take the heavy shots from Santa Cruz all night long.

Santa Cruz doesn’t punch like Gonzalez does, but he hits hard enough to wear an older fighter like Mares down if he can land enough heavy shots. If Mares really does want this fight to be a “Fight of the Year’ candidate, then he’s going to need to be a lot more offensive-minded in this fight than what we’ve seen from him in his last three bouts against Oquendo, Ramirez and Reyes. Mares was very defensive in all three of those bouts.

In the undercard of this Saturday’s Mares-Santa Cruz fight will be #1 WBC super bantamweight contender Hugo Ruiz (35-2, 31 KOs) facing #3 WBC Julio Ceja (29-1, 26 KOs) fighting for the interim WBC World super bantamweight title. Ruiz and Ceja are both ranked high by the WBC, but neither of them are considered top 15 contenders by the other sanctioning bodies. I don’t rate either of these guys as being legitimate top 15 contenders. The WBC has them ranked high with their organization, but I don’t consider them as being fighters that should even be ranked in the top 15. They’re just a couple of crude sluggers in my book.

Also on the card is unbeaten lightweight Alejandro Luna (18-0, 13 KOs) battling journeyman Yakubu Amidu (21-7-2, 19 KOs) in a scheduled 10 round fight. Amidu, 30, has lost 5 out of his last 7 fights. With a record like that, it’s pretty clear that he’s being brought in as the sacrificial lamb for Lunda to slaughter.


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