With fight week officially underway, top media members, fighters and trainers offered up their fight night predictions for the highly anticipated featherweight match-up between Leo "El Terremoto" Santa Cruz and Abner Mares headlining Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on ESPN Saturday, August 29 from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.
The long-awaited battle is considered to be one of the most evenly matched fights in the sport and fans can look forward to the best that boxing has to offer on basic cable as Premier Boxing Champions returns to ESPN for its third installment on the network.
Fitting in with the prevailing notion that this bout is a true 50-50 fight, the prognosticators were almost evenly split on their fight night predictions, with Santa Cruz slightly edging out Mares by a count of just 19 to 18 with two undecided.
The predictions were razor thin in every regard as current and former fighters favored Mares by a count of seven to five while trainers favored Santa Cruz by a margin of five to two with journalists split evenly having nine select each man.
Overall more experts believed Santa Cruz would win by knockout with a five to three advantage while Mares was picked more times to win by decision with a narrow 15 to 14 edge.
Here's an explanation from each of the experts on how they see the action playing out August 29:
Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Mexican Legend: Abner Mares W 12 - It's a good fight that will end in a very close decision. If Abner Mares has the proper strategy, then he can make it. But Mares has to be in good condition, physically, and, mentally. If he is not, then Leo Santa Cruz can win.
Juan Manuel Marquez, Mexican great and four-division champion: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - I think Abner Mares will win because he is a more technical fighter and more experienced.
Leo Santa Cruz has the virtue of throwing good combinations, but has the defect sometimes in that he is very mechanical. Abner's virtue is very technical and he also throws good combinations. His defect is he cannot stand many punches.
Teddy Atlas, ESPN: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - This stands to be the most substantial fight that Leo Santa Cruz has had. He's had a terrific career so far, but this is the most significant step up in class of competition he will have faced.
There's not doubt in my mind that Abner Mares has fought the much better competition throughout his career and he's a better puncher and a slightly bigger guy. But I'm going to say that Santa Cruz wins a decision.
The way that Mares beats Santa Cruz is to have to hurt him, which is possible. But I also qualify it by saying that has to happen within the first five or six rounds, slow him down and take him out of that rhythm before Santa Cruz has gathered to much momentum and put rounds under his belt.
Santa Cruz comes forward and dominates you with truckloads of punches and eventually wears you down by keeping you so busy defensively that he has the upper hand. At the end of the day, I have to hang my hat on Santa Cruz to win a decision. Santa Cruz understands that this is the biggest fight of his career and he hasn't learned how to lose, yet.
Tim Dahlberg, Associated Press: Abner Mares W 12 Leo Santa Cruz: I'm looking for Abner Mares to show flashes of greatness once again in a fight that really is a crossroads bout for both men.
This should be about as entertaining as it gets among the little guys, and will be a close competitive fight. I like Mares by decision in a tough scrap, handing Leo Santa Cruz his first loss.
Peter Quillin, former world champion, fights Michael Zerafa Sept. 12 on NBC: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - I honestly like them both. I like Leo Santa Cruz because he's relentless with pressure and lots of punching. Mares is very strong and a good boxer. I think Santa Cruz wins by a split-decision in a really good fight
Paulie Malignaggi, former two-time champion: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz- In a good fight, I'm picking Abner Mares. He seems a bit more versatile than Leo Santa Cruz and has been in with better opposition. That experience can help a lot when your opponent doesn't have it.
Ronnie Shields, trainer of Erislandy Lara: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - It's a good fight, but I like Leo Santa Cruz because he's more of a boxer. Abner Mares is the bigger puncher, but Santa Cruz, the kid just fights to the level of his competition. I really like Santa Cruz and I think that he's going to win a good fight by a close, unanimous decision.
Virgil Hunter, trainer of Andre Berto, Amir Khan: Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - If Abner Mares boxes and uses his legs, he can present some problems to Santa Cruz, who sacrifices his height a lot. Being as tall as he is, he often squares up and fights too close.
That can play into Abner's hands because he doesn't have to worry about the reach. I would have to say this is a pick-em fight where it's hard to give one fighter the edge. Abner can win, but he's going to have to box. Leo can win with his volume punching. It's just hard to pick a sure winner, but maybe Abner by a close split-decision.
Nigel Collins, ESPN: Abner Mares W 12 Leo Santa Cruz - Abner Mares has never looked quite the same since he was knocked out by Jhonny Gonzalez, but I think he still has superior skills compared to Leo Santa Cruz.
But it's not going to be easy. Santa Cruz is a volume puncher and is going to be winging shots at Mares all night in a fast-paced, fan-friendly fight. However, I think Santa Cruz's aggression will give Mares the opportunity to catch him with counters and box his way to a narrow decision victory.
Brian Campbell, ESPN: Abner Mares TKO 9 Leo Santa Cruz - In this long-anticipated battle between Mexican-born action stars, don't expect either man to take a step backward. Abner Mares, the shorter yet naturally bigger man, will need to dial back to his freewheeling and borderline reckless style of old in order to be most effective.
Mares will have advantages in power and is the more proven fighter at this weight class than Leo Santa Cruz. The jury is still out regarding just how good Santa Cruz really is. But if he ends up trapped in a firefight from start to finish, look for Mares to be the last man standing.
Deontay Wilder, heavyweight world champion, fights Johann Duhaupas Sept. 26 on NBC: Leo Santa Cruz TKO 11 Abner Mares - I'm going with my gut feeling and picking Leo Santa Cruz over Abner Mares. I see an 11th-round stoppage for Santa Cruz. I'm just going with a gut feeling on this one.
Keith Thurman, welterweight world champion: No pick - To be honest, I don't have a pick. I'm just anticipating a good fight and a great performance between two great fighters.
I've seen both fighters fight but I can't really break that one down. I like to be as accurate as I can be, and I don't feel comfortable picking one over the other. It's a great matchup this year, when boxing's doing its thing.
Claudia Trejos, ESPN: Abner Mares MD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - Either one has real KO power. But the fight is at 126 pounds, where Abner Mares is most comfortable. This is a jump for Leo Santa Cruz.
Mares' experience against top level opponents is an important element as well. If we the same Mares that showed up versus Anselmo Moreno, this would be new territory for Santa Cruz due to his limited experience against top quality fighters.
Nonetheless, I respect the high volume, high-octane fighter we find in Santa Cruz. It is always a crowd-pleasing style that can tantalize the eyes of the judges.
Bob Velin, USA TODAY Sports/Boxing Junkie: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - Leo Santa Cruz is one of the best pure boxers in the sport today. But Santa Cruz has not faced the quality of competition Abner Mares has faced.
Since his stunning first-round KO loss to Jhonny Gonzalez two years ago, Mares has taken his game to another level. He is a better boxer and now says Santa Cruz, a former sparring partner, is not at his level. I wouldn't go that far, but I believe Mares' combination of boxing skills and punching power will be an edge against Santa Cruz.
Steve Farhood, Boxing Historian for Showtime & Premier Boxing Champions: Abner Mares W 12 Leo Santa Cruz - I think that it's going to be a great fight, but I have the slight edge to Abner Mares. He's naturally the bigger guy.
Leo Santa Cruz will be putting on the pressure, but Mares punches a little bit harder and Santa Cruz can be hit, and I just think that that power edge might give a slight advantage to Mares in a long very exciting fight.
Omar Figueroa Jr., former junior welterweight champion, fights Antonio DeMarco Sept. 26 on NBC: Abner Mares MD 12 Leo Santa Cruz- I think that unless Leo Santa Cruz is really, really smart, then he's going to lose. I think that Abner Mares is stronger and obviously naturally bigger fighter, and it depends on Santa Cruz and whether he's able to keep the distance.
Santa Cruz is going to have to keep Mares outside, because if Mares manages to get inside and he's able to use his strength, then Santa Cruz will be in trouble. I think that it will be Mares by decision.
Jake Donovan, BoxingScene.com: Abner Mares W 12 Leo Santa Cruz - Leo Santa Cruz was once among the hottest stars on the rise, but I believe missed his chance at becoming something special by failing to maximize his talents in the 122-pound division.
Abner Mares may not be the same fighter he once was when he was among the best in the world as an unbeaten champion over three weight classes, but I believe a reincarnation of sorts will take place.
A boxing match early becomes a slugfest late (despite the perception that Mares is more reserved these days), with Mares edging it in a fight that can go either way.
Shawn Porter, former welterweight world champion: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares - I give that fight to Leo Santa Cruz. I've known Leo for a very long time. We fought in the amateurs together and made some national trips together, so obviously that's where my heart lies.
But I think that overall, he's got the work output and all of the intangibles to go with it to beat Abner Mares. I think that most likely the edge in the punching power will most likely go with Mares. But Mares seems to step back and admire his work where Leo just continues to work.
Mares is a very sharp fighter, but I think that in overall boxing ability, that I would go with Leo. Leo has a very high boxing pace and I think that he's very smart in the ring and sees what he wants to see and throws what he wants to throw, accordingly.
Ruben Guerrero, trainer & father of Robert Guerrero: Leo Santa Cruz KO Abner Mares - I'm going with Leo Santa Cruz. He's a bad-ass fighter. Abner Mares is good too, but Leo is a bigger man and has a longer reach.
I think Leo will be too strong and powerful for Mares. I'm picking Leo to win by knockout in the later rounds.
Kenny Porter, trainer & father of Shawn Porter: Leo Santa Cruz UD 12 Abner Mares- Right now I'm going to say Leo Santa Cruz. I look forward to that fight. Leo's going to beat Abner Mares by a unanimous decision. I think that he will out-work him and out hustle him and out-box him.
Leo's a combination guy and he's boxing and he's punching and he's got pressure and he's got the volume and he's nonstop with his energy. He's a hustler who is constantly moving and working.
The answers might determine the winner. But the guess here is that both will move beyond what the questions suggest, meaning a tough, edgy Santa Cruz and Mares at his aggressive, clever best.
That leads to the later rounds, when Santa Cruz will score with an advantage that isn't a question. Despite going up in weight, Santa Cruz is longer. His three-inch advantage in reach will trouble Mares, forcing him to back pedal into a narrow scorecard loss that sets up the sequel.
Jermall Charlo, undefeated title contender, fights Cornelius Bundrage Sept. 12 on NBC: Abner Mares UD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - I'm going with Abner Mares. He's a motivated fighter who wants to make up for his one loss. I'm thinking that he'll win a 12-round decision.
Mares will try to load up, but that's only going to be to push Leo Santa Cruz backward.
Santa Cruz is going to try to set the pace, but Mares is going to be the more dominant fighter in the end.
Robert Guerrero, former welterweight world champion: Abner Mares SD 12 Leo Santa Cruz - This is a very tough fight to pick because both guys, when they are on top of their game, can beat anyone in their division.
With that being said, I'm leaning toward Abner Mares because I believe he's got the better boxing skills. Leo Santa Cruz brings a lot of pressure and that could be troublesome for Abner. I'm picking Mares to win a close split decision.
Mikey Garcia, former champion: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - I actually think this fight is a toss-up. It all depends on which fighter can make the fight go their way. What I mean by that is Abner Mares is probably a more technical fighter and has more skills. He can box and he can punch and he can brawl if has to.
But for this fight, Mares has to use his skills and stay on the outside, use his jab and his right hand. That way, he can pull of a decision. On the other hand, Leo Santa Cruz is a come-forward volume puncher. If he can get that game plan going and keep Mares on the ropes and in the corners, he's going to be scoring points and get the victory that way.
I think that I'm going to have to side a little more with Santa Cruz, because I think that his pressure is very difficult for a fighter. I think that Santa Cruz, by a small edge, might be able to pull it off. I think that it will be Santa Cruz by a split-decision.
Gary Russell Sr., father and trainer of champion Gary Russell Jr.: Leo Santa Cruz SD 12 Abner Mares - Leo Santa Cruz is going to come straight forward and constantly apply pressure. Abner Mares is going to try to box, but I think that he'll be taken out of his comfort zone because of Leo's pressure. I think it will come down to a split-decision win for Leo Santa Cruz.