Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares will still fight on the same Southland fight card in October. It just won’t be against each other.
The Southland-based co-World Boxing Assn. featherweight champions were concerned that the extended layoff for both fighters would affect their performance, so they agreed to delay a rematch of their entertaining 2015 bout won by Santa Cruz.
“We wanted a tune-up after the long layoff we’ve had since January,” Santa Cruz said, referring to his rematch victory over Carl Frampton.
On Oct. 14 at StubHub Center, Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 knockouts) will defend his WBA “super” featherweight belt against Lancaster’s Chris Avalos (27-5, 20 KOs) and Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs) will make the first defense of his WBA “world” featherweight title against Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez (35-1-1, 25 KOs).
“I’m OK with it. I do understand [Santa Cruz] is on the ‘A’ side of it,” Mares said.
Santa Cruz, 29, explained that his father/trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, was rather insistent in pressing, “Why don’t you take a fight? Mares is a great fight, a hard fight. Get rounds, get in top shape for him.”
Should both champions win Oct. 14, they’ve agreed to stage their rematch in early 2018.
“Mares has been off since December, too, so instead of ring rust being possible … if we both win now, then we’ll fight right away and be in great shape to give it our all,” Santa Cruz said.
Gutierrez, 24, is the World Boxing Council’s No. 9-rated super-featherweight and was supposed to be in line for a bout with Frampton, but that fell apart.
Avalos has lost three of his past five fights. Santa Cruz beat him as an amateur, recalling that Avalos’ father was so upset after the narrow decision that he angrily threw the stool he was sitting on.
“I’m sure they want revenge for that,” Santa Cruz said.
Fox will televise the doubleheader, which was originally planned for Oct. 7 at Staples Center on Showtime.
“When you do a fight in the fourth quarter, budgets get tighter … there wasn’t enough money to ensure they would get properly compensated,” co-promoter Richard Schaefer of Ringstar Sports said. “It’s not about avoiding each other. No. They want to fight. But first things first … .”
Schaefer called 2017 “the best year of boxing that I can remember,” explaining, “when the best fight the best, that costs a lot of money, and you can only stretch budgets so far.”
Showtime, for instance, had the unexpected expenditure of broadcasting the Floyd Mayweather Jr.- pay-per-view fight on Saturday, and foreign television rights in Mexico and England were less than expected, Schaefer said, after Mexican rights for the Sept. 16 -Gennady Golovkin middleweight title bout went for an estimated $350,000.
Schaefer said the consolation is “now that this card is on Fox, it will only make the rematch that much bigger because of the national exposure.”
The card is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. Pacific and likely preceded by or followed by a highly rated baseball playoff game.
Co-promoter Tom Brown didn’t buy the opinion that fans will be let down by this card because they’re left with two tune-ups.
“This venue always leads to great fights … somehow, StubHub just produces, so you can’t count out Avalos or Gutierrez,” Brown said. “They know what they’re doing in there and I believe StubHub will bring out the best in them.”
Mares originally lost his featherweight belt at StubHub Center in a stunning first-round knockout defeat to Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez.
“I have nothing against StubHub. I’m not superstitious,” Mares said.