Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz tout their battle for Los Angeles

Abner Mares, right, throws a punch against Arturo Reyes during a fight on March 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Abner Mares, right, throws a punch against Arturo Reyes during a fight on March 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

(Harry How / Getty Images)

They rode up inside the same elevator car, sat less than three feet from each other at a roundtable and never raised their voices.

Former three-time world champion Abner Mares and two-division champion Leo Santa Cruz are saving their hostility for Aug. 29, when the Southland products will fight at Staples Center in a featherweight battle for Los Angeles.

“The fans want it,” Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17 knockouts) said. “We want to give the fans the fight they want. They want to see an action fight between two Mexicans. It’s going to be a great war.”


The fighters visited The Times on Tuesday before their news conference in Lynwood.

The 29-year-old Mares (29-1-1, 15 KOs) said he sparred an estimated 30-plus rounds against Santa Cruz, 26, when the pair trained at a gym in Maywood about seven years ago.

“I’ve always thought that when you’re in the gym training with someone around the same weight class and category as you that eventually you’re going to fight,” Mares said. “He was coming up, I was coming up. We went our separate ways, but now here we are.

“It is personal. We both want to win.”

The bout has been sought for at least three years but didn’t happen while each were promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.

While Downey’s Mares won three division titles in a four-fight stretch between 2011 and 2013, La Habra’s Santa Cruz claimed bantamweight and super-bantamweight belts.

The pair will fight on an ESPN-televised Premier Boxing Champions bout, the organization operated by Al Haymon, the fighters’ powerful manager.

“I pushed for this fight, [Santa Cruz] pushed for this fight and now it’s happening,” Mares said.

The bout is Los Angeles’ version of Mayweather-Pacquiao but should be a better scrap.

Each enters after confronting some contentment and criticism attached to their world titles. Mares admits the influx of cash he received while gathering belts was detrimental to his fighting hunger before he suffered a first-round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in August 2013.

“I’ve got no shame in saying that ... it showed when I fought Jhonny,” Mares said. “That’s why I have ultimate respect for Floyd [Mayweather] ... [contentment] shakes you down. It’s [important] to have a great circle around you. I’ve been three-time world champion, but that’s behind me. I’m looking forward to capturing a fourth or fifth. It’s why I asked for this fight. I want tough fights.”

Santa Cruz has been assailed by fans for a string of bouts against lesser foes, including his appearance on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard in May.

“I respect that the fans view me as a great fighter and they want me to fight the best,” Santa Cruz said. “It’s why I have an advisor [Haymon]. I’m loyal. They put a fight in front of you for a reason. They tell me to fight [Mares], I say yeah. I’m not scared of no one.”

“I know he’s not afraid, but honestly, I was pushing for this fight more,” Mares countered. “It’s one thing to say you want to fight. It’s another thing to push. I was pushing for this fight.

“There was a time I was up here with a title. They offered Leo Santa Cruz for an opponent. I said, ‘No, I want a tougher opponent.’ At the time, he was coming up and I fought a world champion [instead]. By not choosing him to fight doesn’t make me a scared fighter.

“Now, we’re at the same level. Now, we can fight each other.”

The pair envision an intense clash, with Mares projecting it as a possible trilogy in the Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera vein.

“He’s a come-forward fighter, nonstop throwing punches, and I can be a boxer, but will go back to what I know: to fight, please the crowd,” Mares said.

There’s not a clause in the deal about a rematch, but each said they’re willing to seek one should their bout fulfill expectations.

Tickets, ranging from $25 to $200, are on sale.

“People know already how big and important this fight is for each of us,” Mares said.

Said Santa Cruz: “Neither of us wants to accept defeat.”

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire