Leo Santa Cruz beats Abner Mares by majority decision

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LOS ANGELES (AP) With his hometown crowd going crazy and Abner Mares charging right at him from the opening bell, Leo Santa Cruz really wanted to brawl.

Santa Cruz survived and thrived when he returned to the skill that made him the unofficial king of L.A. boxing.

Santa Cruz beat Mares by majority decision Saturday night, remaining unbeaten with a superior technical performance in an entertaining featherweight bout between two local fighters.

Santa Cruz (31-0-1) survived a night of furious exchanges and eventually controlled several rounds with his superior jab and reach, overcoming Mares’ heavy pressure. He left Mares bloodied after the final bell, raising his arms in victory.

“My dad told me that we could beat him by boxing,” Santa Cruz said about his father and trainer, Jose. “We want to be aggressive, but tonight we had to box him, too. And that’s how we got it done.”

A raucous crowd at Staples Center supported Santa Cruz over Mares, but just barely. Both fighters were born in Mexico and grew up in the Los Angeles area, attracting a turnout of 13,109 to decide local bragging rights.

Those fans got a treat of a fight featuring 2,037 total punches, and Santa Cruz emerged with the virtual crown. Both fighters immediately said they would welcome a rematch, which wouldn’t be difficult to book because both fighters are managed by Al Haymon under the Premier Boxing Champions banner.

Mares (29-2-1) did admirable work inside and survived numerous big shots, but ultimately couldn’t land a decisive blow. Although he felt he won the fight, Mares emerged frustrated by Santa Cruz’s jab that kept him inches away from a chance to change the fight.

“I think I made a mistake in my strategy,” Mares said. “I came out strong, and my corner was telling me to slow down. I wanted to go as fast as I could.”

Two judges scored the fight 117-111 for Santa Cruz, while Max DeLuca had a 114-114 draw. The Associated Press favored Santa Cruz, 116-112.

Santa Cruz landed 35 percent of his 1,057 punches, while Mares connected with just 23 percent of his 980 blows.

Santa Cruz’s superior reach and dominant jab work made the difference: In just his second 126-pound fight, Santa Cruz landed sharper and bigger punches during long stretches of the bout, which was mostly action-packed from the opening bell.

The crowd was worked into a furor by the opening bell, and the fighters responded to that energy by basically running straight at each other and throwing haymakers. They took only occasional breaks in that pace during the frenetic first half of the fight, even after both were cut during a clash of heads in the third.

“I stayed outside with the jab,” Santa Cruz said. “We were able to take control.”

Santa Cruz maintained distance and used his left hook to punish Mares, who had blood trickling from a cut near his right eye in the late rounds. Mares kept throwing shots to Santa Cruz’s body, but Santa Cruz calmly kept peppering Mares’ face until the final bell.

Los Angeles boxing fans had eagerly anticipated this matchup between these occasional sparring partners.

Santa Cruz, who grew up in the nearby Lincoln Heights neighborhood, became a fixture on the undercards of major fights. His career slowed in recent years with several matchups against second-tier contenders for his WBC 122-pound title, but he moved up in weight last May on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard.

Mares, from Hawaiian Gardens, won titles in three weight classes during an impressive two-year span, but his progress was interrupted by a stunning first-round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013. After 11 months off, he returned with three straight wins.

On the undercard, Julio Cesar Ceja rebounded from an early knockdown and stopped Hugo Ruiz with 26 seconds left in the fifth round of the impressive U.S. debuts by two promising Mexican 122-pounders.

Ruiz knocked down Ceja (29-1, 27 KOs) with a looping left hook in the third round, and Ceja was down on all three judges’ scorecards when he flattened Ruiz (35-3) with a dynamite left to the chin. Several moments later, the referee stopped the bout.

Ceja earned a shot at Santa Cruz for his WBC 122-pound belt if Santa Cruz elects to drop back down to super featherweight.

Alfredo “Perro” Angulo also stopped Hector Munoz after five rounds for his second straight victory following a three-fight skid for the popular Mexican super middleweight.

‘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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