At the Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
(Showtime) Abner Mares (24-0-1) vs. Anselmo Moreno (33-1-1)
(The Ring magazine #4 junior featherweight vs. #1 bantamweight)
(WBC junior featherweight belt)
(Showtime) Leo Santa Cruz (21-0-1) vs. Victor Zaleta (20-2-1)
(The Ring magazine #5 bantamweight vs. unranked)
(IBF bantamweight belt)
(Showtime) Alfredo Angulo (20-2) vs. Raul Casarez (19-2)
On shows featuring more than two fights, I now only do full write-ups on the two main events, for the sake of brevity and will only do a prediction for the opening bout.
Alfredo Angulo vs. Raul Casarez - A good stylistic matchup for fans since one boxer always comes forward because it is stamped in his DNA while the other has no choice because he lacks offensive variety and speed. The man with all the options is Angulo, who, based on amateur pedigree and gym talk, can change to a “Plan B” but refused to do so in his two losses. Casarez does not have the athletic gifts or boxing pedigree to even make Angulo think about a second option. I look for Angulo to have his way from the outside working inward with an accurate and speedy jab but will need to shake off some ring rust in the first three rounds. Angulo has the resourcefulness and brute force to walk Casarez down and I expect him to do so and be in total control by the fifth stanza en route to a comfortable decision victory. Casarez is game and will try to punch back in the opening rounds but will be put into a shell of self preservation by Angulo’s superior ring I.Q. as his frustration and disappointment builds.
Victor Zaleta – This Mexican fighter came up the hard way, defeating 35-fight veteran and former champion Eric Ortiz via shocking sixth round stoppage in only his third professional fight! Three fights later, Zaleta went 10 tough rounds against former champion Jose Antonio Aguirre, dominating a second former champion before his 10th fight. Those results set very high expectations that have not completely materialized for some reason? Now a seven-year pro with plenty of experience under his belt, Zaleta remains willing to take on the best. Given early success and solid fundamentals, I assume Zaleta had a good amateur background but I was not able to find information about him in the unpaid ranks. Has a tendency to fight up or down the level of his opposition and at 5’6½” with a 68½-inch reach, Zaleta has good physical tools to exploit his experience. In Zaleta’s first fight after beating Aguirre, he was beaten by capable Faustino Cupul who outworked Zaleta over 10 rounds, pushing him backward. Likes to come forward and box with his hands held high, batting down the opponents’ jab or deflecting them (think Ricardo Lopez but not as fluid) but lacks great hand speed to retaliate from that position immediately. That posture actually hurts him a bit on defense with short or straight accurate punches splitting that guard, most noticeably by an elite Omar Narvaez. Only bested decisively once by just mentioned Omar Narvaez in Argentina and on short notice, so no shame there. Lost a point in the sixth round for repeated low blows in that mauling contest. It is Zaleta’s only loss in his last 16 bouts. Four fights later, Zaleta faced hot and cold Juan Montes (who came in over the weight and Zaleta lost a point for a low blow) who started strong before Zaleta reversed the momentum late coming on strong in the championship rounds to earn a draw. Sometimes lacks imagination on offense but when Zaleta is on his game, can control foes with volume and ability to keep them close and rake their bodies with shots to slow them down to his speed. It allows Zaleta to take over in the later stages of fights when his stamina and upper body strength come to the forefront. At age 25, Zaleta is motivated to win, “I’m used to nobody believing in me and I like to shut people’s mouths.”
Leo Santa Cruz – Perhaps the best young body puncher in all boxing, Santa Cruz is maturing into an all-around boxer at a frightening speed after winning his world title. All that talent is rooted in amateur basics, Santa Cruz estimates an unpaid record of 62-8, doing well in the tough Southern California circuit, advancing to one national tourney finals. Learned much more in the region’s loaded gym network where Santa Cruz sparred champions Giovani Segura and Abner Mares while observing the work ethic it takes to become a champion. Santa Cruz grew up in the sport with his father still training him along with Roberto Garcia, who is brought in for fine-tuning and fight strategy in the final weeks. Began boxing at age eight, idolizing Julio Cesar Chavez, where Cruz no doubt learned the left hook to the body that stopped four quality opponents in 2011. Last time out, Santa Cruz scored his most impressive victory, knocking out an Eric Morel, who went the distance with Abner Mares. Meticulous technique aided Santa Cruz in beating tough Vusi Malinga, patiently riding out Malinga’s early aggression with counters before taking the lead and punishing the South African down the stretch. Is better than expected at infighting, given his 5’7” height and long arms, showing poise, waiting for openings for his slicing uppercut and short hooks. Otherwise, loves to work behind the one-two, stepping into a stiff jab that forces foes to the back foot. Everything works toward setting up an inevitable punch under the elbow and to the liver. Like many youngsters, Santa Cruz is lazy on defense, not moving his head but neatly tucking his chin as he wades in. As a result, was dropped hard in his 10th pro bout, a right hook to the ear affecting his equilibrium, but Santa Cruz showed character, boxing his way out of trouble. Even in championship fights, has switched from banger to boxer and vice versa, according to an opponent’s weakness, and does it with a fluidity and comfort beyond his 102 rounds of professional experience. Knocking out 10 of his last 11 opponents is a result of Santa Cruz maturing physically and entering his physical prime at 24. Paralyzing body shots are what catch the eye first with Santa Cruz. Tough mindset along with a willingness to adjust his wide offensive arsenal to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses speaks volumes about the melding of Cruz’s mind and body to form a complete champion.
Verdict – A year ago, Zaleta had enough grit and upper body strength to maybe pull off an upset but Santa Cruz has really matured since winning the title and as the boxing axiom goes, improved by 30% just winning a world title belt. If Zaleta is too physically strong for Cruz, he will step and pivot around a slower Zaleta to create opening for his straight right hand or hook to the liver. The straight lines and punches of Cruz win the day and if the fight goes the distance, will be rewarded by the judges in unanimous fashion. Those punches are doubly troublesome since Zaleta likes to come at foes in straight lines and does not have a lot of mobility from side to side to create angles. Cruz’s accuracy against Morel was scary and Zaleta is not as defensively conscious as Morel so this one could become very lopsided. I think Zaleta is tough enough to last the distance but his face and body will bear the scars of a grueling fight.
Anselmo Moreno – I appreciate road warriors who win their titles in another man’s home country and Moreno falls into that select group, as well as many other positive categories that remind of legends like Nicolino Locche or an Eder Jofre. Moreno continues to defend his title on the road against top opposition and raised eyebrows with his dominating performance against always dangerous Vic Darchinyan in his American debut. The 5’6½” Panamanian is a lanky southpaw stylist with long spidery arms, boxing in the mold of an Ivan Calderon or Pernell Whitaker. One distinction between Moreno and a Calderon type is that Moreno is not afraid to engage inside, using his natural strength and sharp shoulders to push or maul if opponents get close. Described himself thusly, “My style fascinates me when they are right in front of me and I can make them miss. They miss and I counter them. That’s the art of boxing. Hit and not be hit.” Though not a hard puncher (34% kayo ratio), Moreno’s punches speed and left-handed trajectories lend them sting. Uses a searching jab to gauge range (rear guard stays by chin in classic stance) and varies blows from arrow-straight lefts to looping rights which unhesitatingly follow-up advantages to the head and body. Straight left is most potent weapon which Moreno trails in with a forward stride, setting up other opportunities. In general, despite counterpunching ability, Moreno presses the action. Has not lost since a disputed four-round split decision (twice avenged) at age 17, in his first year as a pro, and made 10 title defenses over four years. Won’t have a problem with pro-Mexican crowd, having defended title in France, Germany, America and Venezuela. Handed Russian Volodymyr Sydorenko his first loss on the road and did the same to Nehomar Cermeno, traveling to Cermeno’s hometown. Has a knack for doing just enough to win, registering four title defenses by split decision (three on the road). Did seem to tire late in some bouts, maybe the result of Moreno’s legs betraying him after difficulties making weight. Only fought twice a year in last two years but past managerial problems were the cause of inactivity (but is a gym rat who never lets himself down in preparations). Described his state of mind for Mares and why he thinks victory is eminent, “I’m very, very confident in my conditioning, that I’m going to be able to overcome anything. I’m very anxious and hungry for this fight and that’s what’s going to lift me to victory.”
Abner Mares - I imagine Mares learned how to fight at family dinners, where he had to fend off 10 brothers to get his share of food. Mares grew up in a boxing family; his father was a pugilist, so “Lil’ Abner” absorbed boxing via osmosis before stepping in the ring at age seven. It’s somewhat of a rarity among elite Mexican fighters given he was an accomplished amateur finishing with a 112-8 record. Mares brought home international medals and ended his run in the amateurs with a disputed loss in the Olympics. Was number one on Golden Boy Promotions’ draft board, inking Mares after the Olympics, and became the first fighter to debut with the company to win a world title. A smooth boxer-first/puncher-second-type with solid pop in both hands, Mares sports sophisticated feet that put him in a position to unleash with either hand. Uses his intellect to deliver well-timed flurries and in fights against elite-level opponents, unafraid to stay in the pocket during offensive and defensive sequences. Impressively reversed momentum in marquee bouts against Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko, fighting through adversity despite sustaining an early knockdown, cuts and point deductions. This is borne of Mares’ great attitude, “I want to be remembered not as a fighter that was unbeaten but as a fighter who fought the best.” Overcame another scare when a detached retina nearly ended his career and refused to reel in his aggressive style in the face of that injury. Mares has a pleasing style and personality, endorsing products in Mexico and is a potential star on both sides of the border - even though his image took a hit in the first Agbeko bout when Mares could have easily been disqualified for low blows. Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio Beristain - who molded similarly-stylish Juan Manuel Marquez - early in his career while respected Clemente Medina presided over recent wins. Distance fights against Vic Darchinyan, Yonnhy Perez and Joseph Agbeko, in which Mares got stronger as rounds progressed, alleviated stamina concerns. Ability to ride out big punches from elite punchers revealed solid chin but defensive flaws should be addressed since Mares has the reflexes and technique to avoid punches. Mares is enthused by this opportunity, “I can’t wait to get in the ring. Again, I like to figure out the opponent once we get in the ring but I think with Anselmo, it’s just a matter of getting him out of his game plan and making it a really uncomfortable fight for him.”
Verdict – This should be a very entertaining fight that comes down to the championship rounds even if Anselmo Moreno has the lead I project. I appreciate the way Mares has challenged himself in picking elite foes but Moreno looks like a bridge too far given Mares’ troubles against lesser boxers like Joseph Agbeko and Yonnhy Perez. Styles make fights and the stylistic match-up favors Moreno, who will use his deceptive movement to keep Mares off balance and unable to land with power to the head or body. If frustration sets in, Mares could revert to headhunting and given Mares’ past (the first Agbeko fight), any blows that land below the belt will be punished sooner rather than later. Moreno is a precision puncher who does not waste punches and his multiple connects are easily appreciated by judges, whereas Mares’ pressure tactics look good to fans but might be deemed ineffective by the judges if unable to trap Moreno consistently. Mares finishes fights strong and might be able to rally in the championship rounds to score a knockdown or two to make the fight interesting on the cards. Mares’ reflexes and naturally aggressive demeanor could win him some close early rounds as well. The judges’ preference will play a role in this outcome with fans and experts split on the real winner. Overall, Moreno’s ring generalship and countering ability at range wins the day, frustrating Mares with lateral movement and potshots from inside the pocket that will bring “Oohs” and “Aahs” from the crowd.
Prediction record for 2012: 84% (111-21)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)