Script Flipped: Leo Santa Cruz Outboxes Abner Mares

Abner Mares wanted to be volume-punching Leo Santa Cruz Saturday night on ESPN. Leo Santa Cruz was ready to be boxer-puncher Abner Mares if he needed to be. Santa Cruz did a better job of being himself and enough of being Mares to take the win, with a majority decision in a good, not great, fight.

Mares came out so aggressive as to win the 1st round of the featherweight showdown. He had Santa Cruz on his back foot, a place he never exists on. Santa Cruz, though, adjusted to that posture, and Mares eventually had to relent on the pace. It would’ve been nearly impossible to keep up with Santa Cruz’s punch volume, and at times, he landed the heavier shots. But he never could deal with Santa Cruz’s volume, even with Santa Cruz not just slinging reckless shots all over the place.

In the meantime, Santa Cruz was landing heavy uppercuts and even counter rights (huh?). By the middle rounds, Mares didn’t seem to know what to do. Mares was better served on the inside with a rugged boxing match. Yet Santa Cruz isn’t bad on the inside, and isn’t bad when things are messy. Combine that with Santa Cruz’s surprising use of jabs and counters, and it got hard to see after the middle rounds what Mares could do outside of landing one big shot. He tried in the 12th, but couldn’t muster it. There was no real card where Mares deserved the win. The 114-114 card was head-scratching. The 117-111×2… more like it.

Santa Cruz now stands near the top of an excellent featherweight class, having finally defeated a quality opponent, something he hasn’t done in a long time. Mares isn’t dead meat, but the decline had been precipitous even before tonight. He mustered a very respectable showing but one that was far from his prime where he was in the clear top 10 pound-for-pound; truth be told, he was probably never a 126-pounder.

As good as the main event was, the undercard was even better. Julio Ceja and Hugo Ruiz traded knockdown through five rounds, neither relenting in the face of heavy firepower. Ruiz drew first blood in the 3rd of their bantamweight slugfest, dropping Ceja hard with a left hand. Ruiz came on hard after that, landing flush shots that probably should’ve finished things, yet Ceja persisted. The 4th was about both men trying to establish who was boss, each trading power shots without conclusion and to the viewers’ general satisfaction. One round later, Ceja landed the best shot of the fight, a monumental left hook that put Ruiz flat on his back. Ruiz somehow got up, and Ceja overwhelmed him with big punches, causing the ref to step in. Although there was some debate about the stoppage, Ruiz was in bad shape on the ropes. The fight looked great on paper and was pretty damn good in reality. Whatever you think of “Premier Boxing Champions,” tonight was one of the series’ best installments.

(Santa Cruz, left, hits Mares, right; via)

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.