When it comes to Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares, familiarity breeds excitement.
The two California-based featherweights went at it for the second time in three years on Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz again emerged the winner -- this time via unanimous decision in defense of his WBA 126-pound championship.
"[It was] a great fight. It wasn't as good as the first one, but I had to be smarter," said Santa Cruz, who'd won a majority decision in the first go-round in August 2015. "[Mares] did a great fight."
Santa Cruz was awarded margins of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 from the three judges at ringside. CBS Sports agreed with the result, giving Santa Cruz eight of 12 rounds for a 116-112 points verdict.
It was Santa Cruz's fourth win in five fights since their first encounter, including a two-bout series with Carl Frampton in which he lost and regained the WBA title. He'd previously been a world champion at 118 pounds and 122 pounds, running his title-fight record to 14-1 since 2012.
Santa Cruz 35-1-1 overall and is widely expected to challenge WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. in a unification bout by the end of 2018 or early in 2019.
"I'm gonna leave it to the fans," he said. "If they say I'm the best, I thank God they say it. I want Gary Russell. I'm not scared of nobody. Whoever it is, let's go."
Mares, meanwhile, fell to 31-3-1 as a pro after beginning his career 26-0-1. "I fought a hard, close fight. I fought my heart out," he said. "I came up short."
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The two men combined to throw nearly 2,000 punches across 12 rounds, most of which were controlled by Santa Cruz thanks to his ability to work outside thanks to edges in height and reach. The champion was able to score well with combination-ending left hooks as well, and though neither man was seriously hurt across 36 minutes, Santa Cruz was able to win most of the exchanges.
Santa Cruz was cut over the left eye by what replays showed to be an accidental butt in the eighth round, but the wound was never a factor.
"It wasn't bothering me in my eye," he said. "If anything, it brings more motivation. I love the crowd. I love to make them happy."
The judges agreed across the board on just five of 12 rounds, four of which went to Santa Cruz.
"I don't want to discuss it. They made their decision," Mares said. "We come here; we please the crowd. We fight for [the fans]. Scorecards, I don't care."
The challenger, though he's lost the first two fights, nevertheless called for a third bout.
"Let's do this again," he said. "Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares III. Let's do it again right here in L.A."
WBC super welterweight champ Jermell Charlo successfully defended his belt for the third time in the final run-up to the main event, outworking veteran Austin Trout and dropping him twice on the way to a 12-round majority decision. The win boosted Charlo to 31-0 in a pro career that began in 2007, while Trout fell to 31-5 -- with all five losses coming in his last 10 fights. One scorecard had the fight even at 113-113, while the other two cards had Charlo a winner by counts of 115-111 and 118-108. CBS Sports agreed with the majority, seeing Charlo as a 116-110 winner.
"I tried to get some Trout but I couldn't get him on the hook," said Charlo, who'd won his previous three title fights by stoppage while fighting just 15 rounds. "I knew Trout was going to come in and try to survive. I think [a majority decision is] BS."
Trout, a WBA champion in the weight class from 2011-13, was dropped briefly by Charlo in the third and ninth rounds. He was able to succeed in spurts with counter punches and by making Charlo miss with combinations but never mounted enough sustained offense to turn the tide.
"Take those knockdowns away and I won that fight," he said. "The better man won with those knockdowns."
On the non-televised undercard:
- Jose Balderas, 22, won his third unanimous decision in three professional fights, blanking Luis Montellano (0-2-1) across four rounds in a super bantamweight match.
- Another 22-year-old, this time in the form of lightweight Carlos Balderas (5-0), made short work of journeyman Alex Silva (3-8), stopping at 2:25 of Round 1 of a scheduled six-rounder.
- Texas-based Angel Alejandro is also 3-0 as a pro after a unanimous four-round verdict against super bantamweight foe Eric Rocha (1-4), winning all four rounds on all three scorecards.
Santa Cruz vs. Mares updates, highlights
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