A 27-year-old resident of Montebello, Calif., Mares (26-0-1, 14 knockouts) is coming off a ninth-round stoppage of Daniel Ponce de Leon for the WBC’s featherweight title, during which he scored knockdowns in the second and final rounds.
Ranked No. 5 pound-for-pound by THE RING, Mares’ victory made him a three-division titlewinner in his 126-pound debut on the undercard of a unanimous decision by welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. over Robert Guerrero.
Santa Cruz (24-0-1, 14 KOs) had debuted as a junior featherweight in the fight prior to Mares’, dropping former 115-pound beltholder Alexander Munoz twice en route to a fifth-round TKO. Munoz, who won his first 23 bouts by stoppage, was knocked out for the first time in his career by Santa Cruz, a 24-year-old from Rosemead, Calif.
Mares added Ponce de Leon to an already impressive resume, having twice beaten ex-beltholder Joseph Agbeko, earned a decision over former beltholder Vic Darchinyan and battled to a draw with then-beltholder Yonnhy Perez — all over a 20-month span as a bantamweight.
After defeating Agbeko by consecutive majority and unanimous decisions, the latter in December of 2011, Mares rose to 122 pounds for a unanimous decision over ex-beltholder Eric Morel in April of last year to earn the WBC’s belt.
In November of last year, Mares scored a unanimous decision over WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno, who rose in weight to challenge for the junior featherweight belt. Mares dropped the Panamanian in the fifth round and ended his 27-bout winning streak.
Other potential opponents for Mares would be Nonito Donaire, current RING, WBA and WBO titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux, JuanMa Lopez, Orlando Salido or RING and WBO featherweight champion Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia — though all five are handled by Golden Boy rival Top Rank and thus the bouts are unlikely to happen. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has Garcia facing Lopez on June 15.
Santa Cruz has risen from the bantamweight division, where he won the IBF belt by unanimous decision over Vusi Malinga last June.
Santa Cruz was recently mandated to face WBC 122-pound Mexican champion Victor Terrazas (37-2-1, 21 KOs), whose promoter, Fernando Beltran, has close ties with Top Rank. The WBC has ordered a deal to be struck by June 7, according to Schaefer, otherwise a purse bid will be ordered on that day.
Mares and Santa Cruz share similarly heartwarming story lines. Mares dedicated his fight against Ponce de Leon to his father, Ismael, who had suffered a stroke two months earlier. Santa Cruz did the same during his effort for his ailing brother, Roberto, who suffers from the potentially life-threatening disease, lupus.
Schaefer discussed potential scenarios for Mares and Santa Cruz in this Q&A below.
Richard Schaefer: Yes. We were notified this past week by the WBC that Leo Santa Cruz has been named the mandatory for Victor Terrazas, and we are happy to take that fight. We reached out to Fernando Beltran, who is the promoter for Terrazas, and we’re happy and willing to do that fight.
RingTV.com: If they don’t take the fight, then what?
RS: If he doesn’t do the mandatory, then I assume that he’s going to be stripped of his title, and Leo will fight for a vacant title against the next available contender.
RingTV.com: Unless the WBC mandates a purse bid, correct?
RS: Exactly. The first thing to do would be to mandate a purse bid. The WBC informed us that if there was no agreement reached, it will go to purse bid on June 7. We have plenty of places where we can do the fight, and we’re happy to promote it.
RS: We can do it in Mexico, we can do it here in the U.S. We have so many shows that that’s not going to be a problem.”
RingTV.com: What are the chances that either Santa Cruz or Mares could be a headliner, a notion you discussed during the post-fight press conference following Mayweather-Guerrero, and what locations would be most feasible?
RS: I don’t know if they would be both on the same card, but we’re making plans for Abner as well. Abner came to see me last week, and he expressed his interest in doing a fight from Mexico.
So, we’re currently talking to the WBC to do something with the WBC in Mexico showcasing Abner Mares. Abner Mares was a big hit, not only based on his last performance which, obviously, was very exciting against Ponce de Leon.
But, really, over the past couple of years when Abner was really just marching through the divisions and fought everyone. He has become a big star in Mexico.
Now, you have to remember that he was a Mexican Olympian, so he was known already in Mexico. But Televisa absolutely loves him, the fight fans love him because of his exciting style.
Abner Mares is another one of those fighters who is never in a bad fight. He always comes to fight, he’s very impressive. He can bang with a banger and he can box with a boxer, it’s just amazing the talent that he has.
I that is why most boxing experts have placed him in the Top 10 pound-for-pound…That’s well-deserved because he’s a sensational fighter and it’s long overdue.
RS: I think that Leo is on his way as well, because he is not only one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met, but really, an amazingly talented fighter, a volume puncher and thrilling in every win.
He’s a humble guy and I’m happy that he’s now going to be fighting for another world title in that higher weight class.
RingTV.com: You said Mares could be a main event, but would you attempt to make him a double-header with Santa Cruz?
RS: Well, Mares definitely would be a main event, so we’re looking at that, and, you know, maybe there is a possibility that it would be a double-header. But, we’ll see now what’s going to happen between now and June 7.
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Photo by Ethan Miller-Gettyimages
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com