By Francisco Salazar

Abner Mares can play the 'blame-game' when it comes to his close decision loss to Leo Santa Cruz almost three years ago.

Then again, that is not him. The popular Mexican-American, who grew up poor in the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount, is accountable for what happened that night.

Mares acknowledges his mistakes, hired one of the best trainers, and believes he is putting himself in the best situation possible to avenge the Santa Cruz loss.

Mares hopes to even the score tonight against Santa Cruz at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 12 round bout, along with the 12 round bout between WBO junior middleweight titleholder Jermell Charlo and Austin Trout, will air live on Showtime (10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT).

Since the loss to Santa Cruz in August of 2015, Mares (31-2-1, 15 knockouts) has added Robert Garcia as his trainer. Mares has won his last two bouts, including his 10th round technical decision over Andres Gutierrez in his last bout on Oct. 14.

The 32-year-old Mares will utilize a different strategy against Santa Cruz on Saturday night.

"Our focus isn't on looking for a stoppage," said Mares earlier this week. "That was my first mistake the first fight. I tried to destroy him. I'm going to follow instructions and show I'm the better fighter in there."

Mares came out strong early in the fight, but tired as the bout progressed. The taller Santa Cruz found a rhythm during the fight, effectively countering Mares with each passing round.

Because Mares and Santa Cruz have two aggressive boxer-puncher styles, another competitive clash is anticipated.

"I could stand up here and tell you what I'm going to do Saturday, but you've seen the first fight," said Mares, who has won world title belts in three weight classes. "You know how exciting the first fight was. This is going to be an exciting fight."

Should Mares become victorious Saturday night, he will win Santa Cruz's WBA featherweight title and will solidify his standing as one of the elite fighters at 126 pounds.

There are potential lucrative fights with WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr., who defeated Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz last month, and against WBO titleholder Oscar Valdez.

Mares does hold out hope for a potential third bout or rubber match with Santa Cruz. Staples Center, the nearby Forum in Inglewood, or Stubhub Center in Carson would be sites that could bear witness, if Mares does win and seek a third fight with Santa Cruz.

For tonight, Mares is all about evening the score against Santa Cruz.

"If I win Saturday night, and the fight is just as exciting as the first one, I'm ready for a trilogy. Let's make it happen."

"I'm going to fight my heart out and win this fight this time. May the best man win. We're going to give the fans what they want to see. I'm calling this 'Fight of the Year.' Guaranteed."

Francisco A. Salazar has written for since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing