Abner Mares Retains His Belt With A Decision, Leo Santa Cruz Remains A Whirlwind

(Abner Mares connects on Anselmo Moreno; photo credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)

LOS ANGELES – Before an unknown number of fans at the Staples Center, a series of solid, entertaining bouts sent sweat flying and the sound of leather ringing through the rafters. Some of the excitement was anticipated, some not. And some of it was delivered in ways that participants will remember just about every time they’re in front of a mirror for the next month or so.

Curious scorecards dirtied up what was otherwise a very fun bout, as WBC 122 lb. titlist Abner Mares delivered a big win against bantamweight belt-holder Anselmo “Chemito” Moreno in the Showtime main event, taking a perhaps undeservedly wide unanimous decision.

Angling away almost immediately, Moreno seemed to be preventing Mares from getting inside, mostly with footwork. Mares managed to bore in and land the odd overhand right or hook, but the two collided and produced a slip/shove to the canvas once apiece in the 1st. In round 2, Mares found a way in and landed a handful of solid body shots, but still had issues lining up the tricky southpaw Panamanian.

Mares found a home for some wider right hooks, but was greeted with long left hands at a distance in the 3rd round. Again Mares dug in, but Moreno began using his forearm inside to quell the issue. Moreno’s skipping about kept Mares from sustaining much offense, yet Mares still got inside and landed right hands that looked to be stinging Moreno. In the middle of an exchange, Mares accidentally landed a low hook, but right before the 4th ended, he pinned Moreno to the ropes and slammed in a number of hard blows. Moreno went back to work a bit in the 5th, walking Mares into left hands, but Mares caught him with a series of shots towards the end of the round that buzzed him. Finally at the end of the round, what looked to be more of a shove than a punch put Moreno down, and it was ruled a legitimate knockdown.

Starting out round 6 firing away, Moreno languished on the ropes a bit too long and was getting tagged all over the place by a fired up Mares. A huge right hand with less than a minute remaining clearly affected Moreno, who answered back with his own stuff. But stuck in a corner, Moreno couldn’t mount much of his own offense as the round ended.

Appearing more tentative in the 7th, Mares measured, rather than brute forcing his way in, but again landed more hooking right hands, and Moreno wasn’t adjusting his guard to them as he likely should have. A tussling exchange saw Mares land a few shots to Moreno’s back, which halted action, and Moreno wound up closing relatively strong.

In round 8, Mares hard-charged back inside and landed a series of shots that had Moreno looking for payback, which he got with a number of hard left hands that had Mares backing into a corner. Mares took a vacation from sanity and waved Moreno in, then lashed out with a bruising right hand that initiated a war and had him closing the round strong. His right eye beginning to close, Mares had his glove up to protect it early in the 9th, but matters at hand ended that notion. Mares began leaping in with hooks, some landing, but Moreno managed to keep composure and generally control range better than he had previously.

Struggling a bit to get something going, Mares boxed from his back foot in the 10th, which favored the more accurate, patient guy in Moreno. Halway into the round, Mares pressed again and did well going back to the body. But with greater separation, Moreno again tagged his foe and closed the stanza well. The effort was somewhat negated by a point deduction against Moreno in round 11, but he went back to work at a distance, leading Mares around the ring almost at will. Just before he bell, Mares dropped his hands and began smiling following a series of big shots from Moreno.

The two began the 12th round almost exactly as they began the 1st: Moreno backing up swiftly, and Mares giving chase. The wear of 11 rounds was on the face of both men, though, and the action was slower and not exactly tidy. Moreno would land a darting or sweeping left, and Mares would manage a right hand, but both were tired. A last-minute salvo didn’t produce much for Mares, and the fighters appeared happy to have lived through the battle when the closing bell rang.

Scores of 116-110 twice, and an apparently serious 120-106 card were turned in, helping Abner Mares retain his WBC junior featherweight title.

Aside from the laughable scorecard, the bout was much more entertaining than expected and a big win for Mares. At 25-0-1 (13 KO), he’s still undefeated and still bringing admirable efforts to the ring, though isn’t as dominating as scores sometimes suggest. A showdown against Nonito Donaire looms, and will hopefully be finalized at some point soon, but with Donaire already talking about moving up in weight once more and the Golden Boy vs. Top Rank “cold war” still in effect, we may not see it soon, unfortunately.

As for Moreno, now that he’s tasted defeat for the second time, he has the option of going back down to bantamweight, where he still holds a belt. But with victory seemingly in grasp, scorecards aside, it has to be a bitter pill to swallow for him. His record now stands at 33-2-1 (12 KO).

The co-feature bout was not much more than a showcase for Leo “Terremoto” Santa Cruz, even though his opponent, Victor Zaleta, gave just about everything he had in a gutsy losing effort. From the outset, Santa Cruz broke through with hooks upstairs and down, forcing Zaleta backwards ferociously with a severe body attack. Zaleta fought back bravely and even managed to put together some combinations in the 1st and 2nd rounds, but just couldn’t keep Santa Cruz from digging inside. Following an onslaught in the 3rd, Santa Cruz dropped Zaleta with a left hook to the body in round 4. Up and fighting an uphill battle, Zaleta survived the round and did what he could to stay upright from then on.

But there was no let up from Santa Cruz, as per usual. His hooks to the body were constant and brutal, but Zaleta’s face was also beginning to redden and swell significantly. In the 7th, a left to the ribs followed by a left uppercut to the chin put Zaleta down once more, and this time very hard. The bell tolled soon after Zaleta rose slowly — either extremely lucky, or extremely unlucky, as it simply meant more punishment.

The 8th round saw more whipping shots from Santa Cruz land flush, drawing out the beatdown, and in the 9th, a right hand-left hook combination put Zaleta down for the final time just over halfway through the round.

There’s not much to dislike about Leo Santa Cruz. At only 24, he has elected to stay busy rather than use his belt as an excuse to only fight once or twice a year. And it’s not as if his “staying busy” is hugging his way through 12 rounds every few months. Against Zaleta, he averaged just under 100 punches a round, and almost all of them carried terrible intentions. Forget the IBF bantamweight belt. With or without a belt, boxing fans should be happy to see him on television.

At 22-0-1 (13 KO), Leo Santa Cruz probably isn’t in a position to be calling out every big name and meaning it, but his style is exciting and most fans may just watch him fight whomever.

Zaleta’s gritty, ballsy performance didn’t earn him the win, but it was the type of outing that should probably be rewarded rather than punished. His record falls to 20-3-1 (10 KO), but if he’s a gatekeeper, there might not be too many young guns knocking at that gate any time soon.

The opening bout of the broadcast had Alfredo “Perro” Angulo make his way back into the ring after more than a year our and improving his record to 21-2 (18 KO) with less than a minute of work.

True to form, Angulo wasted no time in greeting opponent Raul Casarez, now 19-3 (9 KO), with a huge left hook as the latter was looking to trade, and the shot had Casarez down and all but completely out.

Understandably emotional, Angulo’s return to the ring since being held in a detention center due to immigration/visa issues was short, but perhaps exactly what he needed. Angulo needed to feel what it was like to be a winner, and he got it – and in less time than it took for him to walk to the ring.

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @VoiceOfBeard