However, while this may have been the first go round between these two former sparring partners, I've actually seen this fight before, a few times to be exact. Mexico has a long, storied and proud boxing tradition, especially when it comes to the lighter weight classes. So every so often, it is inevitable that such a large country produces two fighters at the same time that mirror each other's careers and are just made for each other. While there are probably others before my time, here are just a few that I actually witnessed and remember fondly.
In 1974 before they were champions, boxing legends Bobby Chacon and Danny 'Little Red' Lopez met each other in an eerily similar meeting of LA cross-town rivals at the rise of their careers; Chacon was (23-1) and Lopez was (23-0) at the time. Live on network television, these two Mexican American warriors, put on an epic nine round classic that saw Chacon eventually stop Lopez. The two would go on to Hall of Fame careers, while never meeting again.
The year 1977 saw two of Mexico's favorite sons Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora meet as undefeated world bantamweight champions at the Forum in Inglewood, California in a title unification bout. What transpired were four rounds of fury before Zarate stopped Zamora via TKO in the fourth. I remember vividly being a 14 year old sophomore in high school and watching it live on the Spanish network channel on my mom's old living room floor model black & white TV; classic!
Then in the early '90's a couple of light flyweight champions named Michael 'Manitas de Piedras' (Little Hands of Stone) Carbajal and Humberto 'Chiquita' Gonzalez met with only one loss between them to unify their titles. The result were three legendary fights within a year from October '93 - November '94, which resulted in Gonzalez winning two out of three, both of his wins by decision. Carbajal stopped Gonzalez in their first meeting via a seventh round knockout. All three fights were great!
A few years later in 1997 it was another meeting of cross-town rivals, this time from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They met as world champions, super flyweight, with only one loss between them; their names were Danny Romero and Johnny 'Mi Vida Loca' Tapia. I remember HBO televised the fight and just like Saturday night's Mares/Santa Cruz tilt, I could not wait. Also just like Mares/Santa Cruz they delivered too, a twelve round back and forth affair that saw Tapia winning a unanimous decision.
However, if their were ever two Mexican fighters that were made for each other, it was Erik 'El Terrible' Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. In February 2000, they met for the first of their four-year trilogy, in what I still consider one of the greatest fights I've ever seen. At the time they were both world super bantamweight champions with only two losses between them and the chemistry the two had against each other in the ring was magical. Morales won this first of three decisions, but would go on to lose the next two. It clearly stands alongside the other true iconic trilogies in boxing.
Only time will tell if Mares and Santa Cruz will meet again. When asked in his post fight interview what would be next, Santa Cruz graciously said he'd be open to giving Mares a rematch if he wanted it; Mares being the fighter he is of course said he is open to it. Whether they do or not, their legacy has already been cemented in the historic tradition that has been laid out before them when two young Mexican warriors are pitted against one another at the peak of their careers. Viva Mejico!