LAS VEGAS — WBC junior featherweight titleholder Abner Mares was ringside at the MGM Grand on Saturday night when Mexican-born bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz scored a fifth-round knockout of ex-beltholder Eric Morel in defense of his IBF crown on the Showtime-televised undercard of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s fifth-round stoppage of Josesito Lopez.
The 24-year-old Santa Cruz (21-0-1, 12 knockouts) battered Eric Morel, who turns 37 in October, with a relentless body attack that forced Morel to retire on his stool prior to the sixth round.
Stopped for the first time in his career, Morel (46-4, 23 KOs) was coming off April’s unanimous decision loss to Mares (24-0-1, 13 KOs) in a clash that was for the WBC’s 122-pound belt that had been vacated Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka.
Mares, who turns 27 on Nov. 28, will defend that belt on Nov. 10 at The Staples Center in Los Angeles against rising WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno (33-1, 12 KOs), who is ranked No. 10, pound-for-pound, by THE RING.
A Mexican-born fighter from Montebello, Calif., Mares will be trying to end a 27-bout winning streak that includes 10 knockouts for Moreno, who turned 27 in June. On the Mares-Morel undercard, Moreno scored a ninth-round knockout of David De La Mora.
Mares has fought 60 consecutive title fight rounds, having twice beaten ex-beltholder Joseph Agbeko, earned a decision over former titleholder Vic Darchinyan and battled to a draw with then-beltholder Yonnhy Perez.
Mares-Moreno will take place nearly a month after HBO and Top Rank televise IBF and WBO junior featherweight titleholder Nonito Donaire (29-1, 18 KOs) against Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs) from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Oct. 13.
Mares discussed Santa Cruz, Moreno and his future during a brief interview with RingTV.com at ringside on Saturday night.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on Santa Cruz?
Abner Mares: Well, Leo definitely has something that a lot of these other youngsters don’t. I mean, he applies a lot of pressure, man, and he fight like he’s still the challenger, but he’s the champion.
That’s the kind of mentality that he has. He works every single round, throws punches in bunches, and this guy reminds me of a smaller version, physically, of an Antonio Margarito.
AM: It definitely, definitely has an affect, we all know. Coming from one tough fight and then to go into another one right after that with another young guy without taking a tuneup?
You know, his last fight was against me, and so he hasn’t had any easy fights the last two times. I did give him a helluva fight, and he gave me a helluva fight.
It was a fight that went 12, hard rounds, but that’s not to take anything away from Santa Cruz. I mean, Leo just out-worked Eric Morel and he made him quit.
RingTV.com: What does it say about you that, after having fought 60 straight championship rounds against credible opponents, you are now going to face Moreno?
AM: I would like to think that it says good things about me, and I would hope that the fans and the rest of the people in the sport see that.
I’m trying to give everyone the fights that they want to see, and the fights that people are asking for. Anselmo Moreno is definitely one of the best fighters, pound-for-pound, out there right now.
You know, it’s a great fight against a great fighter, and a very, very tough fight for me. But it’s just another case where I want to fight the best.
I want to prove myself against one of the best out there. So when it comes time for me to get out of this sport, I want to leave this sport knowing that I’ve fought nothing but the best.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Tom Casino, Showtime
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com