LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Abner Mares wanted a spectacular knockout when he fought Leo Santa Cruz nearly three years ago. He intended to establish dominance over his fellow Southern Californian with a performance that would prove his credentials as a world champion.
Instead, Mares got roundly outboxed at Staples Center and lost his shot at the WBA featherweight title. The majority decision has gnawed at him every day since.
When Mares (31-2-1, 15 KOs) gets his second shot at Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs) in the same cavernous downtown arena Saturday night, he has a different plan. Mares knows he can't do the spectacular unless he does all the little things first - and even then, he faces the toughest challenge of his boxing career.
''Our focus isn't on looking for a stoppage,'' Mares said this week. ''That was my mistake the first fight. I tried to destroy him. I'm going to follow instructions and show I'm the better fighter in there.''
Game plans aren't always easy to follow in the heat and lights of the ring. Mares has won fights in just about every fashion during his 13 years as a pro, but he couldn't figure out a way to make progress in his first fight with Santa Cruz, who has a height advantage.
When Mares charged forward in that first bout in August 2015, Santa Cruz stayed on the outside and peppered him with jabs. They got into several dynamite exchanges, but Santa Cruz always stayed out of big trouble in what appeared to be a clear decision victory.
After that loss, Mares teamed up with respected trainer Robert Garcia. He has fought only twice since, but both were victories that showcased his growth.
''I think that Mares has gotten a lot better,'' Santa Cruz said. ''Robert Garcia is a trainer who has brought him up to a different level. He's made a lot of improvements.''
Santa Cruz rose to new heights after that victory. He split two high-profile bouts with Northern Ireland's Carl Frampton, losing and regaining his 126-pound belt.
But Mares is a rival and a chance for a strong payday. Santa Cruz famously uses his purses to pay for medical care for his father and trainer, Jose, whose multiple myeloma is in remission.
Santa Cruz agreed to the rematch with a promise to win even more dominantly. If he succeeds and can't land a fight with fellow featherweight champ Gary Russell Jr., he'll probably move up to 130 pounds to seek a title in his fourth weight class.
''I've learned a lot from my last few fights,'' Santa Cruz said. ''I'm not coming in here worried about losing, I just worry about giving the fans a great show. If Mares is better than me that night, then he will win. But I've worked too hard, and I'm going to be at my peak.''
The Showtime card at Staples Center also includes Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs) defending his WBC 154-pound title against veteran Austin Trout (31-4, 17 KOs).