CARSON, Calif. – After Leo Santa Cruz put on a boxing clinic in a third-round destruction of Victor Terrazas on Saturday at the StubHub Center, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer was asked about a potential Santa Cruz-Abner Mares bout.
"That would be huge at Staples [Center]," Schaefer said.
There was a lot of anticipation in Southern California for a Santa Cruz-Mares fight, which would have matched two of the fastest rising stars in the sport.
Jhonny Gonzalez heard the talk, too, and he quietly seethed.
"They were treating me like a steppingstone for Mares and were making plans for a Santa Cruz fight before [he even fought] me," Gonzalez said.
And that turned out to be a bad decision.
Gonzalez scored the upset of the year with a crushing first-round technical knockout of the previously unbeaten Mares, dropping him twice and claiming Mares' WBC championship.
"At this moment, this is the single greatest and most glorious moment of my life," Gonzalez said. "When I came to the U.S. for this fight, no one gave me any credit. All they talked about was Mares fighting Santa Cruz."
The talk was for good reason, as the two were quickly rising up the ranks and were among the most skilled, and exciting, fighters in the game.
After Santa Cruz dismantled Terrazas on Saturday, it was Mares' turn to hold up his end of the bargain.
Mares, though, never got on track and didn't land a meaningful blow before being violently beaten up.
The first two minutes were almost completely uneventful, with neither man landing anything of significance. But with about a minute left in the round, Gonzalez landed a strong straight right hand. Mares took it well, but it was a harbinger of what was to come.
Not long after, Gonzalez decked Mares with a textbook left hook to the jaw. Mares was in obvious trouble this time, but courageously bounced up and referee Jack Reiss allowed him to continue.
The clock was running down in the round, and Gonzalez knew he had Mares hurt. He also knew Mares would be dangerous, and he had a decision to make: To attack and go for the early finish, or to play it cautious and not get caught with a Hail Mary from a desperate Mares.
After briefly considering his options as Reiss tended to Mares, Gonzalez knew what he had to do.
"I knew I had to go in for the kill," Gonzalez said. "I didn't want to let him survive. It was just a matter of time before he'd be knocked down again. People just didn't give me the respect I deserved."
Gonzalez entered the bout with 46 knockouts in 62 professional fights and a deserved reputation as a hard hitter, if not a slick boxer.
Mares found out the hard way it wasn't all talk. The Gonzalez win clearly derailed talk of a Mares-Santa Cruz fight, and left Schaefer to consider his options.
"You just have to enjoy the fights," Schaefer said. "We all think we know what is going to happen. I was reading a story where The Ring picked 19 experts, probably some of you [ringside media] and asked who was going to win. All 19 picked Abner Mares.
"We think we know everything, but the truth is, we don't. And that is why boxing is so exciting."
Santa Cruz continued his upward momentum in the opener of the Showtime-televised doubleheader. He challenged Terrazas for the WBC super bantamweight title and put on a virtuoso performance.
He knocked Terrazas down twice in the third and forced referee Dr. Lou Moret to stop it to save Terrazas from a frightful beating. It was plenty bad as it was, with Terrazas' right eye swollen shut from a series of sharp, accurate Santa Cruz blows.
Terrazas was a veteran with far more experience, but Santa Cruz took him apart with a cool, surgical precision.
"I was not expecting a knockout this early in the fight," said Santa Cruz, who dedicated the fight to his brother, Roberto, who is battling lupus. "I thought it would have been later. Terrazas is a great fighter and I knew I had to pressure him in order to bring him down. I needed to do this in the early rounds because he's a tough fighter. In the second round, when I saw his eye swell, I knew I had to work up to that more."
That shifted the spotlight to Mares, who made a mistake that cost him his title.
Schaefer said he didn't think the stunning loss would hurt Mares' popularity, because the promoter pointed out that Mares always comes to fight and puts on exciting events.
And Mares shrugged off his first loss.
"I'm in this sport not to remain undefeated, but to fight the best," Mares said.
Gonzalez proved he's on his way to being one of the best with his performance, recording his 55th win and his 47th knockout.
And after enduring all the talk about a Mares-Santa Cruz fight without complaint, he finally had his moment in the sun.
"They had me wrap my hands twice in the locker room to try to break my concentration," Gonzalez said. "But it was then that I knew I had to win at all costs."
That he did, and it was one of the most remarkable bouts of his career.