LAS VEGAS — Abner Mares scored a ninth-round TKO of Daniel Ponce de Leon to win the WBC featherweight title in the final undercard bout ahead of Saturday’s main event between Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Mares, who had floored Ponce de Leon in the second round, scored another knockdown with an overhand right in the ninth. Ponce de Leon made it to his feet, but Mares closed in, raining blows on the champion until referee Jay Nagy intervened with 40 seconds left in the round.
“When I dropped him both times, it was hard,” said Mares, who was moving up from super bantamweight, where he holds the WBC title. “I wasn’t just fighting some opponent, he’s my friend. Especially the second time, I hoped he stayed down.”
Ponce de Leon, who insisted the stoppage was premature, said at least three times he wanted a rematch.
“I don’t want to discredit Mares, but I was winning the fight,” Ponce de Leon said. “The ref stopped the fight so quickly.”
Leo Santa Cruz (24-0-1, 14 KOs) finished off Venezuela’s Alexander Munoz (36-5, 28 KOs) with a crushing TKO after five one-sided rounds.
Santa Cruz, a former bantamweight titleholder moving up to junior featherweight, floored Munoz in the third and fifth before one of his corner men entered the ring and referee Vic Drakulich waved it off at the 1:05 mark.
“I wanted to give a good show for the fans and that’s what I did,” said Santa Cruz, who landed 57 body shots and had a 135-26 edge in landed punches over the last three rounds. “I felt strong and confident tonight.”
J’Leon Love (16-0, 8 KOs) stayed undefeated thanks to a highly dubious split decision over gritty North Philadelphia middleweight Gabriel Rosado (21-7, 13 KOs) in the first televised pay-per-view bout.
Boos rained from the half-full crowd after the scores from ringside judges Glenn Trowbridge (95-94 to Rosado), Herb Santos (97-92 to Love, inexplicably) and Dave Moretti (95-94 to Love) were announced.
“I just fought a guy that has world championship experience and I thought I put up a good fight,” Love said. “We can do it again if he wants so we all know who’s the clear winner.”
The action was mostly even during the early rounds, but Rosado took control when he dumped Love to the canvas for the first time in the Las Vegas native’s career with a straight right hand near the end of the sixth. Love recovered nicely in the seventh and even got the better of a series of toe-to-toe exchanges in the eighth, but Rosado opened up in the ninth and landed the hardest shots of the fight, drawing oohs and aahs from the audience.
Love landed 191 of 487 punches (39 percent) compared to 165 of 555 for Rosado (30 percent), yet the Philadelphian was clearly landing the more meaningful blows.
“My performance spoke volumes tonight,” said Rosado, who was coming off a hard-fought loss in January to Gennady Golovkin in a world title fight. “I don’t think I need to prove myself against him again but I’ll fight him if I have to.”
In the final prelim before the pay-per-view telecast, super middleweight prospect Ronald Gavril (4-0, 1 KO) stayed unbeaten with a third-round TKO of Roberto Yong (5-7-2, 4 KOs). Garvil had Yong on the ropes throughout most of the fight, which was scheduled for four rounds, before three straight head shots prompted referee Russell Mora to intervene at 2:12 of the third.
The victory made it 4-for-4 for Mayweather Promotions fighters in the non-pay-per-view prelims.
Luis “Cuba” Arias (5-0, 3 KOs) outpointed DonYil Livingston (8-3-1, 4 KOs) in a six-round super middleweight bout. The Phoenix, Ariz., native overcame a strong finish by Livingston to pull out a majority decision by scores of 57-57, 58-56 and 58-55.
Badou Jack (14-0, 10 KOs), a rising light heavyweight prospect from Las Vegas, scored a third-round TKO of Michael Gbenga (13-8, 3 KOs), of Silver Spring, Md., by way of Accra, Ghana. Jack sent Gbenga to the canvas with a right hook to the body late in the third round. Gbenga made it to his feet but protested to referee Russell Mora that the punch was low. When the fighter refused to continue, Mora waved it off at the 2:26 mark.
In the night’s first bout, Las Vegas native Lanell Bellows (4-0-1, 4 KOs) scored a fourth-round TKO of Matthew Garretson (2-1, 1 KO) of Charleston, W. Va., in a four-round super middleweight fight. Bellows punished Garretson with body shots in the first two rounds before rocking him with a right uppercut near the end of the third. Referee Kenny Bayless put a stop to it just 32 seconds into the final round.
– Bryan Armen Graham