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.”

‘It’s about time’: Trump pardons late boxer Jack Johnson

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a rare posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, clearing Jack Johnson’s name more than 100 years after what many see as his racially-charged conviction.

“It’s my honor to do it. It’s about time,” Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony, where he was joined by boxer Lennox Lewis and actor Sylvester Stallone, who has drawn awareness to Johnson’s cause.

Trump said Johnson had served 10 months in prison for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice and described his decision as an effort “to correct a wrong in our history.”

“He represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” Trump said.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes, for traveling with his white girlfriend.

Trump had said previously that Stallone had brought Johnson’s story to his attention in a phone call.

“His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted in April. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson is a legendary figure in boxing and crossed over into popular culture decades ago with biographies, dramas and documentaries following the civil rights era.

He died in 1946. His great-great niece has pressed Trump for a posthumous pardon, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been pushing Johnson’s case for years.

The son of former slaves, Johnson defeated Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908 at a time when blacks and whites rarely entered the same ring. He then mowed down a series of “great white hopes,” culminating in 1910 with the undefeated former champion, James J. Jeffries.

McCain previously told The Associated Press that Johnson “was a boxing legend and pioneer whose career and reputation were ruined by a racially charged conviction more than a century ago.”

“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a stain on our national honor,” McCain has said.

Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, and Bush pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949.

Linda E. Haywood, the great-great niece, wanted Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to pardon Johnson, but Justice Department policy says “processing posthumous pardon petitions is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

The Justice Department makes decisions on potential pardons through an application process and typically makes recommendations to the president. The general DOJ policy is to not accept applications for posthumous pardons for federal convictions, according to the department’s website. But Trump has shown a willingness to work around the DOJ process in the past.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Lomachenko stops Linares in 10th, wins lightweight title

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NEW YORK (AP) Vasiliy Lomachenko stopped Jorge Linares in the 10th round of their lightweight championship fight Saturday night, winning a title in his third weight class in just his 12th pro bout.

Lomachenko landed a hard left to the body during a flurry of precision punches that sent Linares went to a knee. Linares finally got up just as the count was reaching 10 but referee Ricky Gonzalez called an end to the fight at 2:08 of the round.

Linares knocked down Lomachenko in the sixth and the fight was all even after nine rounds before Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) put an overpowering end to his first fight at 135 pounds, adding that title to his belts at 126 and 130 pounds.

Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) hadn’t lost since 2012 and used his size advantage to do some damage, but in the end Lomachenko did more in an exciting Madison Square Garden match.

The fighter widely known as Vasyl said this week he prefers to use Vasiliy, his legal name. And now he can be called lightweight champion after picking up the WBA’s version of the belt in front of a crowd of 10,429 that chanted “Loma! Loma!” and waved blue and gold flags for much of the night.

It was Lomachenko’s eighth straight victory by stoppage, but this one was much tougher than a recent stretch of clinics in which his last four fights ended when his opponents’ corners wouldn’t let them take more punishment from the Ukrainian.

Lomachenko had joked he should be called “no mas Chenko” for his habit of making opponents quit, but Linares made him earn this victory.

The Venezuelan was on a 13-fight winning streak and was giving the two-time Olympic gold medalist the test he wanted, one that he said would bring out the best in what many already consider the most skilled fighter in the world.

Each fighter was ahead 86-84 on a judge’s card, while Julie Lederman had it 85-all after nine rounds.

Lomachenko said Thursday he needed to finally be put in danger to show his complete array of skills, and then on display in the 10th round with a series of shots that Linares couldn’t defend, especially the left to his midsection that took the biggest toll.

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