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.”

Manny Pacquiao loses WBO welterweight title on points to Jeff Horn

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight world title to Jeff Horn in a stunning, unanimous points decision in a Sunday afternoon bout billed as the Battle of Brisbane in front of more than 50,000 people.

The 11-time world champion entered the fight at Suncorp Stadium as a hot favorite but got more than he bargained for against the 29-year-old former schoolteacher.

Still, Pacquiao dominated the later rounds and the result could have gone his way.

Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach predicted the fight would be short and sweet but Horn – unbeaten in his 17 previous professional fights – applied pressure by winning some of the early rounds and Pacquiao needed treatment during the 6th and 7th rounds for a cut on the top of his head that resulted from a clash of heads.

The judges scored the fight 117-111, 115-113 and 115-113, with Horn immediately calling out Floyd Mayweather Jr., after the fight, declaring himself “no joke.”

Roach had said earlier in the week that he’d think about advising Pacquioa to retire if he lost the fight, but that would depend on how he fought.

Pacquiao’s camp had talked about a rematch with Mayweather if he got past Horn, hoping to avenge his loss on points in the 2015 mega fight. That seems to be a distant chance now.

Pacquiao, who entered the fight with a record of 59-6-2, 38 knockouts, was defending the WBO title he won on points against Jessie Vargas last November.

Mayweather vs. McGregor odds: Sportsbooks set betting lines, props for fight

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Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor stand to collect a massive payday whether their superfight is a charade or a combat sports classic, and there’s plenty of upside for bettors too.

With the bout set, Mayweather is a -600 moneyline favorite against the +400 underdog McGregor at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  Mayweather will put a 49-0 ring record on the line in the August 26 bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, while McGregor, a UFC champion at two weights, might prove a point just by having a decent showing.

The moneyline has tightened considerably since the first rumors about the fight. Last November, Mayweather opened at -2250 and McGregor opened at +950. Evidently, many MMA fans found McGregor irresistible at that price, as it steadily dropped, falling to +450 by late April. That was also the point where the moneyline on ‘Money’ came down to -700.

The over/under on rounds is 9.5. A 10-round fight is uncharted waters for McGregor, but 13 of Mayweather’s last 14 fights have gone at least 10 rounds. Twelve have gone the full 12 rounds; the Mayweather-McGregor betting odds on whether the fight goes the distance pays +125 if it does, and -175 if it’s stopped early.

McGregor also pays +120 if he wins by decision, which is the standard outcome for his bouts against full-time boxers. McGregor’s method-of-victory props include +700 for a knockout and +3300 for victory by decision.

There is little in the way of past performance to go on here, since McGregor hasn’t boxed since he was a teenager in Ireland. Mayweather’s defensive skills should allow him to parry any early onslaught from McGregor, who is a knockout artist in the UFC octagon and rarely has fights go more than two rounds.

The round prices offer the most potential profit for Mayweather backers. One can assume that the skilled defensive fighter might dance around while McGregor goes out hard. It might be prudent to scale down expectations of a quick finish – +3300 for Mayweather winning in Round 1, +2500 for Round 2 – and look at the slightly later rounds. Rounds 4 through 6 are listed at +1600 and +1400.

While Mayweather’s round prices trace a reverse parabola, McGregor’s round prices are relatively stable. The Irishman offers +4000 for a win in Round 1, or each one from Rounds 4-7. There is a slight drop to +3300 for both Round 2 and 3.

Another way to bet on the Mayweather-McGregor fight is the 4.99 million total for pay-per-view buys. The over hitting would require beating the audience for Mayweather’s 2015 fight against Manny Pacquaio (4.6 million). McGregor also holds the UFC’s PPV record of 1.65 million, set at UFC 202 in August 2016

With boxing and MMA fans creating a larger fanbase and the event being scheduled for the dog days of late August – before the NFL and college football blot out everything else on the sports landscape – 5 million buys seems doable.