Despite his unbeaten record, Mexican prospect Leo Santa Cruz had a lot to prove last night (Aug. 29, 2015) and did so in excellent fashion, showing surprising boxing skill in addition to his trademark volume punching en route to a win over Abner Mares.
Mares (29-2, 15 KO) surprised many by coming out like a house on fire, bullying his way inside and trading brutal shots to the head and body with the taller man. After two impressive rounds, however, Santa Cruz (31-0-1, 17 KO) started to get the better of the exchanges, prompting Mares to work from the outside.
This proved unsuccessful thanks to a crisp jab and some great timing from the taller Santa Cruz, who began to catch Mares coming in and use his physicality to control the exchanges in the clinch.
To his credit, Mares never stopped swinging big and landed his fair share of good shots, but he never managed to recapture his momentum after the second. Even when he did manage to force his way inside, he got so close he smothered his own work. Santa Cruz was simply too strong, too good on the outside, and too debilitating for the former three-division champ.
Judge Max DeLuca, whom I assume was either not paying attention or high as a hot air balloon full of Deadheads, scored the bout a draw. He was thankfully overridden by a pair of 117-111 scores, mirroring MMA Mania's own. Bad Left Hook had it 118-110 for Santa Cruz, who earns the WBA featherweight title.
The featherweight division is one of the most punishing in the sport, featuring the likes of Nicholas Walters, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Gary Russell, Jr. I sincerely hope Santa Cruz and manager Al Haymon elect to face the elite, because there are plenty of interesting matchups for the young man.
As for Mares, while he's by no means "shot," he hasn't been the same since his stunning loss to Jhonny Gonzalez two years ago. I don't see him making too much of an impact at 126; he might be better served returning to 122 or 118, where he can better impose his physicality.
The opening feature saw 22-year-old prospect Julio Ceja (30-1, 27 KO) come off the canvas to knock out Hugo Ruiz (35-3, 31 KO) in a highly-entertaining super bantamweight clash. As Ceja pursued heavy punches, Ruiz did an excellent job on the counter, flooring the young man for the first time in his career with a gorgeous third-round left hook. Unfazed, Ceja continued his pursuit before flattening Ruiz with a nasty left hook in the fifth. Despite his best efforts, Ruiz didn't manage to survive the round and the referee intervened during a Ceja flurry.
For quick results and round-by-round coverage of "Cruz vs. Mares" click here.