There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, where the boxing world would have went bonkers over a fight between Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares. But, like countless fights through the years, this thing never came to fruition when both fighters were ripe. So when Santa Cruz and Mares go to battle Saturday night, on an ESPN broadcast of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions,” the atmosphere won’t be anything like it could have been. While both fighters seemed poised to explode just a couple of years earlier, bad losses and awful opponent choices have taken a significant amount of starch out of the pair. The good news? That combination might make this thing an absolute war.
Santa Cruz became a network darling at Showtime, due in part to his affable demeanor and the fact that he fights like the Energizer Bunny on hyper speed. He’s broken CompuBox machines and the wills of opponents by merrily flurrying away to the head, body and any limb that stood in the way. Mares came up on Showtime as well, successfully running through the bantamweight division and leaving fans clamoring for a fight with Nonito Donaire, yet another fantasy fight that stayed exactly that way.
Mares culminated his wicked run by utterly destroying Daniel Ponce De Leon in May of 2013, while Santa Cruz headlined a fight on CBS by easily defeating Alberto Guevera in 2012. Since then, things have been rough for both men. Mares was shredded inside one round in his very next fight, with Jhonny Gonzalez doing the wrecking. And while Santa Cruz has remained unbeaten, he’s been destroyed a different way – through the media. Sometimes, that’s worse.
Instead of building on all the momentum he had, Al Haymon, Santa Cruz’s adviser, has placed him in with guys who have either been horribly faded, or would have been better off cleaning the ring instead of fighting in it. Worse, he appears to have regressed, fighting down to the level of his opposition instead of obliterating guys he should be toying with. Luckily for him, Mares hasn’t fared much better since getting iced.
He had a one-off pairing with Virgil Hunter that went about as well as you could imagine before he returned to Clemente Medina. But he hasn’t looked like the Mares of old. In fact, despite the recent victories (he’s won three in a row since the Gonzalez loss), he’s looked pretty damn shaky. Other than his hair. Dude has some well-coiffed hair. So instead of a lightning-rod fight between two up-and-coming fighters on their way to superstardom, we’ve got a crossroads fight between two guys who desperately need to look impressive.
Santa Cruz doesn’t have knockout power, but the 14,587 punches he throws per fight usually do enough to wear his opponent down. As for Mares, he hasn’t been in with a fighter as good as Santa Cruz in years, if ever. Can he do enough damage to the iron-chinned “El Terremoto” to give himself room to breathe? Both men get hit pretty clean, and neither own the kind of pop Gonzalez has, so it would be shocking if any one punch were to take either man out. Instead, we should get a drawn-out scrap, one where multiple bombs are landed, with possibly both guys feeling the pain before it ends.
Santa Cruz owns significant height and reach advantages, but he doesn’t use his length that much. Rather, he jabs in front of a peek-a-boo defense until he gets within range to open up with looping shots. Mares likes to be the aggressor, and he often gets caught when backing up. He’ll want to attack as well. And if both guys are attacking… We’ve got something good here.
While neither man has been sharp, I’m betting they’re in damn-fine form on Saturday night. These aren’t two 40-somethings trying to recapture the glory of their youths. They’re both young. They’ve both taken serious heat from fans and media. The result? They’re both pretty fucking hungry. During this late summer of basically nothing but PBC broadcasts, the focus has been placed on two can’t-miss fights coming down the road — Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux, and Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez. Both fights deserve the hype. But this one? This one deserves a little bit more than it’s getting.
Hopefully, we’re discussing this bout in a few months as a Fight Of The Year candidate. All of the elements are there, at least on paper. Quite a few of the PBC fights this year have looked solid on paper, only to fizzle out when the bell rings. This one might finally be different. But unlike their last few match-ups, the fighters will have to earn it.
God knows their fans certainly have.