Mares says he has to be “the bad guy” against Santa Cruz in rematch


LOS ANGELES — Meeting almost three years to the month since their first world title matchup in August of 2015,  Abner Mares is looking to avenge his majority decision loss to Leo Santa Cruz and capture the World Boxing Assn. (WBA) super featherweight world title from a fighter he calls “humble” and a “great person.”

Mares, 32, says that this upcoming June 9 rematch should be just as great as the first encounter between the two. He adds that it’s difficult to be a ‘good guy’ against a person like Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs) because he [Santa Cruz] doesn’t get consumed by the trash talk and remains humble in every situation.

“This is going to be another great one. Leo Santa Cruz is a great person and a humble guy,” Mares, who holds the regular WBA featherweight world title, said. “You have to be the bad guy against Leo. I could talk about what I’m going to do in the ring, but my fists and my brain will do the work for me.”

Mares, of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico by way of Montebello, California, feels that he is now a more improved fighter than he was almost three years ago. One major change since the first matchup is the fact that Mares is now headed by former trainer-of-the-year award recipient Robert Garcia. Following his 2015 loss to Santa Cruz, Mares was inactive for over a year (experiencing two fight postponements along the way), as he seemingly reevaluated the next phase in his boxing career. He returned, under the tutelage of Garcia,  in December of 2016 in a world title bout against the Argentinian and Freddie Roach trained Jesus Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs).

Abner Mares Vs. Jesus Cuellar

Abner Mares and trainer Robert Garcia celebrate after hearing the scorecards in their fight against Jesus Cuellar in December of 2016. Photo: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME

Cuellar was looked at as a dangerous opponent for Mares, especially for his first fight back after a long period of inactivity. However, after a competitive first half of the matchup, it was Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs) who outboxed Cuellar in the latter half of the contest and scored a knock down in the penultimate round.

“I can talk about how I’ve changed, but you just need to look at my last two performances. People thought Jesus Cuellar was going to knock me out, but I was the one who dropped him,” Mares said during this week’s press conference for his rematch against Santa Cruz. “That lets you know what type of team I have and what kind of Abner Mares you will see on June 9.”

Santa Cruz, through his trait of humility, recognizes that Mares is a better fighter today and is glad the rematch was made, as he stated after the first meeting that he would surely give Mares a chance at the sequel.

“It was a really close fight the first time. Before the fight, I told him I would give him the rematch, just like I would have wanted if I lost,” Santa Cruz said. “Now is the time and I think this fight is going to be even better than the first fight. Mares will be better with Robert Garcia. He has many champions and I’ve seen the improvement. That’s great motivation for me.”

The 29-year-old Santa Cruz will dedicate this bout to his father, Jose Santa Cruz, who was diagnosed with a type of bone cancer near the spine called Myeloma two years ago. Leo Santa Cruz knows that his dedication in the gym and a potential victory can encourage his father to keep fighting his battle.

Santa Cruz vs Mares Press Conference Staples Center_21

Jose Santa Cruz looks on as his son, Leo Santa Cruz, delivers remarks at the press conference for his rematch against Abner Mares in Los Angeles. Photo: Scott Hirano/SHOWTIME

Assuming Leo Santa Cruz can secure the rematch victory against Mares and retain his title, he might find himself in the ring for a third time with Ireland’s Carl Frampton or the Philippines’ Nonito Donaire, who square off against each other later this month.

Even though the first encounter with Mares was a majority decision win, Leo Santa Cruz did not have to mentally deal with the notion of his father’s cancer diagnosis while doing battle. Jose Santa Cruz says he tells his son to focus on the bout and knows that, this time, Leo Santa Cruz will be better prepared for the fight, which is set to emanate from The STAPLES Center.

“I tell him not to worry about me and to keep working hard,” Jose Santa Cruz said.

“He seems really motivated right now. He knows he’s doing well.”


About Albert Baker

Writer/Producer/Director of the Under the Hand Wraps documentary series and owner of Albert Baker is currently based in Fresno, California and has been covering boxing since 2014.

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