Abner Mares, left, walks away after becoming the first person to knock down… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
The little guys put on a big show at Staples Center on Saturday night. In the world of boxing, they were mice that roared.
Abner Mares of Los Angeles chased, lunged, punched and brawled his way to a unanimous decision over Anselmo Moreno of Panama in their super-bantamweight battle for the World Boxing Council title. Mares had the title and Moreno had won 27 straight fights, so the matchup was a good one.
That turned out to be the case, generally, except for one judge, who had Mares winning all 12 rounds.
This was not a night of little guys throwing little punches. Not much dancing or jabbing, either. To some, it might have been reminiscent of the similar days of bantamweight action in the boxing heydays of the 1950s and '60s in Los Angeles, at places such as the Olympic Auditorium.
Mares was especially aggressive, constantly charging after Moreno like a bull. Had the ring been a china shop, everything would have been broken.
"I couldn't let him get comfortable with his style," Mares said. "I made it my fight."
He also was the first to knock down Moreno, who still is the WBC bantamweight champion. The knockdown came in the fifth round, and it appeared to be more the cumulative result of yet another lunging flurry of shots by Mares than one big connection.
"I was surprised when he went down," Mares said. "It didn't feel like that powerful a punch, but he had never been down before, so that was good."
The main event wasn't the only match with big action from small bodies.
Leo Santa Cruz, a Mexican-born resident of Los Angeles, remained undefeated in 23 fights when he beat a tough and game Victor Zaleta of El Paso. It, too, was a bantamweight brawl that featured punchers appearing to carry considerable more weight and danger than the normal 118-pounders.
Santa Cruz won with a straight right to the face in the eighth round. By then, Zaleta had taken quite a beating and seemed to go down, not just with the right to the face, but under the general barrage of punches. When it ended, Santa Cruz had thrown 839 punches, connected with 342 and had more than three rounds to go to increase those numbers.
To his credit, or bad judgment, Zaleta hung in impressively.
Santa Cruz put him down with a punch to the liver — Santa Cruz has established a reputation as one of the more devastating body punchers in the game — in the fourth round. He did it again in the seventh, connecting to the body and staggering Zaleta, before following with a shot to the chin.
But Zaleta got up again, probably despite protests from his liver.
In the Mares victory, the fight often looked as much like a track meet as a boxing match. Mares chased and Moreno tried to counter and somehow survive, but took a huge beating in the process.
"Abner is very strong," Moreno said, "and I got caught with a lot of his shots."
The first match after they turned on the Showtime cameras matched Alfredo Angulo against Raul Casarez at 154 pounds. Those watching at home who had decided to stop at the refrigerator missed it.
Angulo, a veteran and former Mexican Olympian who lives in Los Angeles and who has the reputation as a boxer who will throw as many as 100 punches in a round, only needed a handful. They exchanged blows for about 30 seconds, and Angulo even took a good shot from Casarez. But then, in one of those punches you see only in boxing movies, Angulo unloaded a roundhouse left. It caught Casarez on the left chin and the Texas fighter went down like a folded ironing board just given a push.
That made Angulo's record 21-2. His only losses have been against big-name fighters, Kermit Cintron and James Kirkland.
"Against Kirkland, I wasn't prepared," Angulo said. "Tonight, I was. I had so much emotion in my walk-in that I almost cried. But I held it in."
He said he has gotten great help from new trainer Virgil Hunter, who trains superstar Andre Ward.
"Virgil has stressed defense, not to get hit so much," Angulo said.
That certainly worked out this time. The best defense was a great offense.