Previews And Predictions For Abner Mares Vs. Jhonny Gonzalez And Victor Terrazas Vs. Leo Santa Cruz

Often, nostalgic memories are colored by a rose lense that distorts just how much better things were, once upon a time. If any boxers today approach that warped standard of how they used to make 'em in the good ol' days and don't anymore, one of them has to be featherweight Abner Mares, fighting this Saturday on Showtime. That's not to say that boxers weren't doing things differently 70 years ago than they are today, because they were — the game has changed, probably permanently, to the point that boxers aren't going to take on the likes of Jake LaMotta or Kid Gavilan several times in a one-year period while squeezing in eight other fights besides. What you can do is look at a run like Mares' since 2010 and admire how there isn't a soft touch in the bunch. It is a grueling streak he's in the midst of, one that continues this weekend.

By his recent standard, Mares is taking a slight step backward, not that anyone is complaining. The step is a slight one, and if anybody deserved a break anyway it would be Mares. His opponent Saturday is no break. Jhonny Gonzalez lost to Mares' last felled opponent, Daniel Ponce De Leon, but not as widely as the scorecards would have you believe. He remains the #5 featherweight, not far behind Mares' #3, and poses certain dangers De Leon does not. When your backward step is someone like Gonzalez, it's proof plenty of how far you are running ahead of the rest of the crowd.

A little further behind — in weight and in achievement — are the two men meeting on the undercard, #2 junior featherweight Victor Terrazas and #10 Leo Santa Cruz. It is an ambitious fight on its own. Golden Boy Promotions is using this doubleheader to entice us about an eventual Mares-Santa Cruz meeting, not that it needs much more selling, nor is Mares-Santa Cruz likely next in any scenario, and it's putting Santa Cruz in against the most accomplished opponent of his career in a division where he is still a newcomer. GBP stands the risk of spoiling the bigger fight should Santa Cruz fall short, but better this kind of test for Santa Cruz — one that will show us how ready he might be for Mares — than letting a fight marinate too long and get spoiled for nothing like Top Rank did with Juan Manuel Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa.

That said, this card ends up resembling the kind of card that is a Top Rank specialty (which is meant as something of a compliment) where two fighters are given bouts that are building them toward something more lucrative and are being presented in the interim with opponents who are likely to lose, yet give them the kind of plausible challenge and action that satisfies the fans.


I don't want to oversell Terrazas-Santa Cruz, though. Terrazas is deserving of his lofty ranking because he's beaten the kind of opposition to warrant it. The names include Cristian Mijares, Fernando Montiel and Nehomar Cermeno since 2011. At age 30, he's proven a bit of a late bloomer.

But look a little closer at how he did it and against whom, when. All three of those fights were close on the scorecards — split decisions over Mijares and Cermeno, a 115-112/115-113/114-113 scorecard against Montiel. All of those men made their names at lower weight classes, be it junior bantamweight or bantamweight, although Mijares has proven himself an ongoing contender at junior featherweight, too. Go back just one year on Terrazas' record, to 2010, and he was overwhelmed and stopped by Rendall Munroe, a full-fledged 122-pounder with limited punching power.

Maybe Terrazas learned something from that Munroe bout, when he came out fast and eventually faded. His offense was very, very conservative against Mijares and Montiel. There's nothing wrong with his offense otherwise, because he goes to the head and body accurately and sharply with both hands. That also means he's less likely to get caught with anything stupid, since he tends to keep his defense tight while not punching, although he did get dropped in the 12th round by Mijares, a light puncher even at the lower weights, so maybe not getting caught with anything stupid is a good idea. His own punching power is limited, although he did drop Montiel and both Montiel's and Mijares' faces were worse for the wear from his tattooing. Alternately, maybe Terrazas isn't so much conservative as he is more comfortable with his opponent setting the pace and playing off it. Neither Mijares nor Montiel were likely to press Terrazas too much, by temperament.

Santa Cruz's temperament, by contrast, is more like that of a 16-year-old boy in the backseat of a Ford Fairmont with his new girlfriend. The pressure is intense, the drive unreal. He throws as many punches from as many angles as anyone in boxing right now, with a body attack that is especially cringe-inducing. At 118, he only beat one authentic contender, Vusi Malinga, although he did it in such a convincing way as to open eyes. Lesser fighters, like faded contenders Eric Morel or Alexander Munoz, have been so much chum. The only one to give him any real trouble was Alberto Guevara on CBS last year, and come to think of it, why hasn't CBS done anything of significance since with boxing? Anyway, Guevara boxed intelligently and countered Santa Cruz, which was the hypothetical formula for knocking off a volume puncher like him to begin with, and lo and behold, it kind of worked. Not enough to win, though, or really even come close. It might also have hurt Santa Cruz that he was struggling with making the 118-pound limit at the time, and based on early returns against Munoz in his 122-pound debut, he was ready for the jump.

It is possible that Terrazas' pinpoint, low volume style will be just what the doctor ordered against Santa Cruz's opposite approach, and that Terrazas can slice him up with counters that win over the judges. More likely, Terrazas' record is built on undersized, older fighters and Santa Cruz is only one of those things at best — he was comfortable at 122, seemingly, although against someone who also had made his name at lower weights. I doubt Terrazas can hit Santa Cruz with anything that can keep him away, and I expect Terrazas to fade under Santa Cruz's pressure after some early competitive rounds. Santa Cruz ought to win by mid- to late-round stoppage.


One view of Mares-De Leon was that Mares dominated his first 126-pound opponent. Another, mine, was that Mares was in control early, De Leon was getting momentum and Mares stifled it with a knockdown in the 9th followed by a horrible referee intervention to halt the bout. What is indisputable is that Mares took a typically bold opponent to face in his 126-pound debut, and he very much proved he belonged at featherweight.

Mares basically skipped 122. He fought Morel and Anselmo Moreno at 122, both of whom were 118-pound  contenders at the time. His 118-pound resume is pretty stellar, however, with wins over Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko and a should've been win turned draw against Yonnhy Perez. Anyway, beating Moreno is no joke, no matter how much better suite Moreno might be at 118. Mares has shown from 118 to 126 he can beat a whole host of styles: Perez's boxer-puncher; Darchinyan's puncher-boxer; Moreno's pure boxing; De Leon's brawling puncher. Maybe it'll be competitive, as it was with Agbeko the first time around, but he finds a way to win.

If there's any knock on Mares, in fact, it's that maybe he'll go too far to win, since he has a tendency toward illegal tactics, especially low blows. In a weird kind of way, it demonstrates his flexibility, not that I applaud that aspect of it. The rest, I do. He can counter. He can lead. He can go to the head or body, and the body attack is most nasty. He is fast enough and powerful enough. He can take a shot. He's a do-everything fighter. Maybe his opponent will have an edge or two over him, but none of them will have more edges.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, is a kill or be killed sort. I say that despite the fact that, of his eight losses, only three are knockouts. Four of them date back to 2002, though. Of his four losses since, three are by KO, and the technical decision loss to De Leon was preceded by a knockdown before a head butt called an early halt to matters. Of Gonzalez's 54 wins, 46 are by knockout, which is a very high percentage. Some of that is because by modern fighter standards, Gonzalez stays exceptionally busy. He's had 62 bouts and he's only 31. Some of it is because he has real power, especially in his right hand. He has stopped authentic contenders like Hozumi Hasegawa or Irene Pachecho, for instance. Ultimately, he's a bit chinny, but he also can throw, and he is technical enough to make a difference. When I say "technical enough," it's because he's got his flaws. He can fight off his back foot or his front, but he lunges aplenty, which leaves him wildly out of position. Against De Leon he showed a certain capacity for being cautious and using his height and fighting off his jab, although obviously that couldn't keep him from being dropped.

What swings me toward a Mares win is that Mares could stand up to De Leon's full-fledged featherweight dynamite. Gonzalez might have bigger one-punch power, but he also is more judicious about using it. De Leon applies it recklessly and without regard for getting hit back. Gonzalez is, to quote Mares, a bit of a thinker, which means he won't be as likely to land a big combo that could stop Mares. Gonzalez's length is another significant factor, but Mares is used to fighting longer-armed, taller fighters, and he has a knack for working his way in. Second verse, same as the first: Mares by mid- to late-round stoppage.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.