Leo Santa Cruz looks to lift up his father in Abner Mares rematch
There are days when Leo Santa Cruz can see the pain in his father’s expression and urges him to remain at home.
“I can’t,” trainer Jose Santa Cruz tells his son, the World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion. “If I stay at home, it’ll be harder for me. I fear I’ll give up.”
Despite the sometimes excruciating discomfort, the elder Santa Cruz vowed at Tuesday’s news conference to be in his son’s corner June 9 when Leo Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 knockouts) meets Southern California rival Abner Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs) in their long-awaited Showtime-televised rematch at Staples Center.
The pair first met in August 2015, with Santa Cruz emerging the victor with an all-action majority decision in a bout that featured 2,000 combined punches.
Mares, a four-division world champion raised in Hawaiian Gardens and Mexico, has looked especially strong prior to the slated rematch.
He won the WBA secondary featherweight belt in December 2016, then dominated Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez in October at StubHub Center, an appetite-whetting card in which Santa Cruz stopped Lancaster’s Chris Avalos by eighth-round knockout.
“I’m excited, and I’ve been impatient because we had the fight planned last year and nothing happened,” said Mares, who was kept on hold mostly because Jose Santa Cruz wanted his son to recover from three rugged battles against Mares and two bouts with Carl Frampton.
“Now, it’s official. The timing is perfect. I’ve put in the work. It’s time to win,” Mares said.
Mares embraces the motivation of returning from a loss, comparing it to his own path of conquering street trouble and poverty as a youth to become a world champion.
“My life has been ups and downs. … I’ve been through an eye injury, fights being promised, fights falling off,” Mares said. “I’ve been through it all. I could write a book on the ins and outs of boxing. But I’m still here, still punching.
“It’s time for redemption.”
Mares credited much of his improvement in the last year to his work with trainer Robert Garcia.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz expects to use his reach advantage and skills to again defeat Mares, with his father guiding the way.
Jose Santa Cruz battled myeloma — bone cancer near the spine — two years ago. He says the cancer is in remission, but the insertion of a metal plate in his back still pains him.
“His voice is still strong. He’s still pushing me. He shows courage, but I know inside he’s hurting and he’s tired of it,” Leo Santa Cruz said. “I wish I could find the right medicine, but it feels like there’s nothing I can do. It makes me desperate, anxious.”
A brighter spot might be found in a repeat of the victory over Mares and moving on, perhaps to a trilogy with Northern Ireland’s Frampton, who fights Nonito Donaire later this month.
“The only way I can make him feel better is training hard, making him happy, listening to him,” Leo Santa Cruz said.
Knowing that Garcia is in Mares’ corner and that his son appreciates his father’s discipline and wisdom presses the elder Santa Cruz to grind through what’s expected to be a demanding training camp in La Puente.
“Even though I’m in pain — and it can be bad — I’m going to stay here to see my son, correct him and make sure he’s 100% for the fight,” Jose Santa Cruz said.
“I have faith we’ll win. Last time, we won. This time, it will be easier.”
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