by Cliff Rold

Leo Santa Cruz won a vacant WBA featherweight belt from Abner Mares, lost it and regained it against Carl Frampton, and now attempts to ‘unify’ WBA belts against WBA featherweight titlist Abner Mares.

Or something like that.

The WBA, with it’s ‘we swear we’ll fix this’ multiple belts per class stuff is nonsense. This rematch, in the ring, is not. Since their first memorable fight in 2015, Mares has fought only twice while Santa Cruz has gone 3-1 in four fights since. Both have continued to be quality in the squared circled. After some tune-up action last fall, we finally arrive at a rematch over a year in the making and three years since their first encounter.

For this pair of three-division titlists, much is on the line (Showtime, 10 PM EST). Can Mares do anything different to change his fate and reinvigorate his place in the game? Will Santa Cruz keep his consensus position as the top featherweight in the world and put himself in position to attempt some real unification? 

Let’s get into it.

Stats and Stakes

Leo Santa Cruz

Age: 29

Title: WBA “super” featherweight (2017-Present, 1 defense)

Previous Titles: IBF bantamweight (2012-13, 3 defenses); WBC super bantamweight (2013-15, 4 defenses); WBA “super” featherweight (2015-16, 1 defense)

Height: 5’7 ½

Weight: 125 ½ lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: Rosemead, California (Born in Mexico)

Record: 34-1-1, 19 KO

Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, Ring, BoxRec)

Record in Major Title Fights: 13-1, 7 KO

Last Five Opponents: 136-12-1 (.916)

Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Eric Morel TKO5; Alexander Munoz TKO5; Victor Terrazas KO3; Cristian Mijares UD12; Abner Mares MD12; Kiko Martinez TKO5; Carl Frampton L12, MD12


Abner Mares

Age: 32

Title: WBA featherweight (sub-title; 2016-Present, 1 defense)

Previous Titles: IBF bantamweight (2011-12, 1 defense); WBC super bantamweight (2012-13, 1 defense); WBC featherweight (2013)

Height: 5’4 ½

Weight: 125 ¾ lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: Montebello, California (Born in Mexico

Record: 31-2-1, 15 KO, 1 KOBY

Press Rankings: #4 (BoxRec), #5 (ESPN, Ring), #6 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly)

Record in Major Title Fights: 5-2-1, 1 KO, 1 KOBY (7-2-1, 1 KO 1 KOBY including WBA sub-title fights)

Last Five Opponents: 136-10-2 (.927)

Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Isidro Garcia RTD7; Yonnhy Perez D12; Vic Darchinyan SD12; Joseph Agbeko MD12, UD12; Eric Morel UD12; Anselmo Moreno UD12; Daniel Ponce De Leon TKO9; Johnny Gonzalez KO by 1; Leo Santa Cruz L12; Jesus Cuellar SD12 – WBA sub-titlist

The Case for Santa Cruz: Despite his accomplishments, it could be the case that Santa Cruz is still a little underrated. His volume attack suggests a brawler but he’s more than that. Santa Cruz, from a fighting family, showed real growth and maturity in the Frampton rematch. His jab, timing, footwork, and countering ability allowed him to reverse his first real setback in style. Santa Cruz is both skilled and exciting and he’s still getting better. His jab will be the key against Mares as it often was in the first fight. Santa Cruz has the edge in reach and height and has to make Mares work for every centimeter of space between them. Santa Cruz is the younger man but he has a chance to show Mares how much the challenger as aged since the first bout. 32 years old in the lower weight classes, especially after the rough career of Mares, can be getting up there. Can Santa Cruz make Mares look like an aging fighter?

The Case for Mares: Mares has never been the fastest, the strongest, or the biggest puncher but the 2004 Mexican Olympian has had a tremendous career by being just enough of each to win most of the time. His work ethic, ring IQ, and toughness have always been assets. So has his chin, despite a stunning first round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez that blew his career off its fast track in 2013. For Mares to win here, he needs to find the sort of relentless he had in a career best win over the excellent Anselmo Moreno. In the first Santa Cruz fight, his best moments came when he crowded Santa Cruz, took away his reach, and landed short, meaningful shots. Against Moreno, he attacked from the outset and the taller, longer man couldn’t find any consistent rhythm until he was behind. Does Mares, at 32, have the same sort of outburst physically or mentally? In many ways, Mares is against the wall and this has the feel of a last stand. He’s of high enough quality to muster it but has Santa Cruz simply improved to a place where he’s not good enough to get it done?

The Pick: Sometimes, the other guy is just the better guy. Santa Cruz was better the first time and, of the two, he’s grown more as a fighter since the first encounter. Neither man is typically the sort of puncher to go home early so expect this to last rounds. Mares has to win more of them in the first half of the fight to have a chance and then hang on like hell to any lead in the second half. The longer, younger Santa Cruz is unlikely to let him. The pick here is Santa Cruz by another decision that is slightly less competitive than the first time.

Additional Showtime Pick: Jr. middleweight - TBRB #2 Jermell Charlo TKO Austin Trout

Rold Picks 2018: 18-9

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at