Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares meet to decide SoCal supremacy

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LOS ANGELES (AP) No championship belt is at stake when Leo Santa Cruz steps into the Staples Center ring to take on Abner Mares.

Both featherweights realize that the winner will only be the unofficial king of L.A. boxing, and that’s an ample reward.

Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17 KOs) risks his unbeaten record against Mares (29-1-1, 15 KOs) on Saturday night in a tantalizing featherweight matchup between two fighters with numerous similarities. Both were born in Mexico and grew up in the Los Angeles area, and they occasionally sparred in training as they built their parallel careers to world-class levels over the past decade.

One more similarity: While both are skilled punchers, they really love a good brawl.

“This is a huge fight for Los Angeles,” said Santa Cruz, who grew up in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. “Everyone in the city has wanted us to fight, and now they’re going to get it. We’re excited and happy to give the fans a great fight.”

Mares fought for the Mexican Olympic team, but the former three-division champion grew up mostly in Hawaiian Gardens, a blighted city southeast of downtown Los Angeles. After winning three world titles in a two-year span that ended in 2013 with his first defeat, Mares aggressively pursued a fight with Santa Cruz, and he got it under the downtown lights on ESPN.

“It feels good to be fighting in my hometown,” Mares said. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to fight here in Los Angeles. Headlining at Staples Center means the world to me and my fans. … I work so hard for these opportunities. But it’s for everybody, my family, my fans and everyone. I work hard in the gym every day for them.”

Both fighters are managed by Al Haymon, the guru behind Premier Boxing Champions. Haymon’s venture has received criticism for its occasionally cautious matchmaking, but nobody is mad about this clash between two of the world’s top lighter-weight fighters in their primes.

Both had a role in making it: Mares began calling out Santa Cruz in the media several months ago, and Santa Cruz says he eagerly asked Haymon to book the fight.

Santa Cruz secured his up-and-coming reputation with a series of impressive victories on the undercards of big-name bouts, creating a record of action-packed fights with his power and skill. But his career stalled in the past few years when he accepted a series of matchups against second-tier competition instead of risking his reputation against the best.

“Fight by fight, I’ve been learning and picking up new things,” Santa Cruz said. “I am definitely a brawler, but I can box, too. I want to finish my opponent once I get in there.”

With three straight victories, Mares is back in the championship hunt two years after his only loss – a shocking first-round stoppage by Jhonny Gonzalez. Santa Cruz fought on the same card at the famed StubHub Center in August 2013, winning the WBC super bantamweight title by stopping Victor Terrazas.

“My experience is going to be the difference in this fight,” Mares said. “I’ve faced tougher opponents and been a three-time champion. I’ve been in against legitimate champions. Every time that I fight someone at this level, it brings the best out.”

Although this is only Santa Cruz’s second featherweight fight, both boxers already rank with Nicholas Walters, Vasyl Lomachenko and Gary Russell Jr. as the biggest names in the 126-pound division.

If their first meeting is as entertaining as they hope, both Mares and Santa Cruz could be propelled to a new level of stardom in front of their hometown fans.

“I’m not worried about the crowd and who they’re rooting for,” Mares said. “I’m there to make everybody a believer. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere, and I can’t wait.”

GGG outlasts Jacobs in close unanimous decision

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NEW YORK (AP) Gennady Golovkin outlasted Danny Jacobs in an exhausting 12-round defense of his middleweight titles Saturday night.

Both fighters are knockout artists, yet this one went the distance – the first time GGG has not had a KO in 24 fights, and his first time going 12 rounds. The Kazakh won 115-112 on two judges’ cards and 114-113 on the other.

The AP had it 114-113 for Golovkin.

In the toughest fight of his stellar career, Golovkin often was stymied by Jacobs changing to a left-handed style. But a series of hard rights throughout the bout were enough – barely – to bring his record to 37-0.

“Daniel did a very good job,” Golovkin said. “Daniel is my favorite fighter. I can’t destroy him.”

He didn’t, unlike so many other opponents who felt the fury or GGG.

“I thought I won it by at least two rounds minimum,” said Jacobs, nicknamed Miracle Man after he overcame bone cancer in 2011-12 to win 10 straight fights. “I did feel like I had to win the 12th round to make sure.”

He won it on two of the three cards, but it wasn’t enough, perhaps because he was knocked down in the fourth round, which went to Golovkin 10-8 on all three cards.

Still, with Madison Square Garden reverberating from chants of “Triple G” or “JACOBS,” no one could be sure of the outcome right until the final punch.

Jacobs is 32-2. Golovkin holds on to his belts and took Jacobs’ WBA middleweight title.

Golovkin, a world champion since 2010, is 5-0 at the Garden, which he calls a “second home.” But Jacobs, from Brooklyn and, oddly, a representative of the competing arena the Barclays Center, tested him more than anyone has.

Golovkin keeps his WBC and WBO crowns – the IBF belt was not at stake because Jacobs skipped that organization’s fight-day weigh-in. On the horizon for GGG could be that elusive meeting with Canelo Alvarez if the Mexican wins his fight in May against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

“Of course I am ready to fight Canelo, of course I want that fight,” Golovkin said. “I am like an animal for that fight.”

But there’s another option, GGG admitted.

“I will give Danny Jacobs a chance for a rematch.”

Earlier, Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai stunned previously unbeaten Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, knocking down the Nicaraguan in the first round, bloodying his face with an unintentional head-butt in the third, then winning a majority decision for the WBC super flyweight championship.

Even though Sor Rungvisai was docked a point in the sixth round for another head-butt – there were several in the brutal bout – he never backed off. He relentlessly attacked the cut over the right eye of Gonzalez, who clearly was hampered by the blood streaming down his face. The challenger carried the fight in the eyes’ of the judges through the latter rounds.

In only his second fight outside Asia, Sor Rungvisai improved to 42-4-1 with 38 knockouts. Gonzalez, considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, is 46-1.

One judge had the fight even at 113-113. The other two gave the Thai the nod 114-112 in the action-packed bout.

A sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden vigorously booed the decision.

The AP had it 115-113 for Gonzalez, who has held some sort of world title since 2008.

Gonzalez went down from a hard right to the body in the opening round, but he then took charge – even after his face turned to a bloody mask in the middle rounds. However, Sor Rungvisai landed enough punches and moved well enough to keep in it.

And then, despite being outpunched decisively, with Gonzalez landing 441 to 284, the Thai got the surprise decision.

Earlier, Carlos Cuadras outpointed fellow Mexican David Carmona in a super flyweight fight.

Both from Mexico City, Cuadras and Carmona were coming off defeats. Neither was particularly sharp Saturday night, and the decision drew a lusty round of boos from the crowd.

Perhaps the unorthodox manner in which Cuadras fought, at times looking off-balance and awkward, didn’t win over the fans. Or maybe it was the way Carmona came on late in the 10-rounder.

Regardless, the judges went for Cuadras 97-93, 97-93 and 96-94.

Cuadras (36-1-1 with 27 KOs) lost a close unanimous decision to Gonzalez in a sensational September matchup for the WBC belt he’d held since 2014. He wasn’t nearly as impressive in his win at the Garden.

Carmona (20-4-5) was also coming off a loss, to WBO world champion Naoya Inoue of Japan.

Cleveland’s Ryan Martin improved to 18-0 with 11 knockouts when he totally outmatched Bryant Cruz before stopping him in the seventh round of their lightweight bout.

Floyd Mayweather would be massive betting favorite against Conor McGregor in superfight

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Seeing how Floyd Mayweather has never lost a professional fight to any actual boxer, oddsmakers rate him as an overwhelming favorite if the much rumored boxing match against mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor comes to realization.

Mayweather is  listed as a -1400 betting favorite against the +750 underdog McGregor at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. If it happens – and McGregor has been dropping hints that it will, sharing video of him training for boxing in Mayweather’s hometown of Las Vegas – it would also be the most lucrative bout in prize fighting history.

Mayweather, who turns 40 years old next week, is a perfect 49-0 during a career which has seen him win acclaim as the best fighter, pound for pound, of the last quarter-century. The five-division world champion has stayed on top of the game for so long by being an excellent defensive fighter who wears out opponents.

Mayweather’s last seven victories as well as 10 of his last 12 have gone the full 12 rounds. At this stage of his career, he’s far from a knockout artist but is likely to be able to keep his guard up much better than the typical opponent McGregor faces in the Octagon.

McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, ends his fights quickly. The Irishman has won 17 of his last 18 bouts, including 14 by knockout or technical knockout. Stamina likely wouldn’t be an issue for McGregor in a boxing ring, given that boxing rounds are two minutes shorter than the five-minute rounds in the UFC.

Of course, if the fight actually comes to pass, McGregor would have to adjust to using the heavier boxing gloves and would have to get used to staying on his feet.

Since coming to the UFC, McGregor has been an underdog only once, closing at -105 against Jose Aldo at UFC 194. That was the bout where he knocked out Aldo in 13 seconds.