Updated at: 11/17/2012 5:05 PM
By GREG BEACHAM
(AP) LOS ANGELES - Abner Mares attacked relentlessly on the way to a unanimous decision over Anselmo Moreno on Saturday night, defending his WBC 122-pound title and handing Moreno his first defeat in a decade.
Leo Santa Cruz also defended his IBF bantamweight title, stopping Victor Zaleta in the ninth round of a brutal fight on a thoroughly entertaining card at Staples Center.
Alfredo Angulo stopped Raul Casarez with a single left hook 56 seconds into the first round, making a dramatic return to the ring after a year away. Earlier, Welsh light heavyweight Nathan Cleverly defended his WBO title with an eighth-round stoppage of Shawn Hawk.
Mares (25-0-1) rarely stopped moving forward in a fascinating clash of styles with Moreno (33-2-1), the elusive Panamanian star. In the fifth round, Mares scored the first career knockdown of Moreno, who had won 27 straight fights since October 2002.
"I could tell he felt my power and my aggression," Mares said. "He did take advantage of me when I waited too long, but he’s a super champion and he gave me hell. I couldn’t let him get comfortable with his style, because he’s very good. I made it my fight tonight."
Mares stalked Moreno from the opening bell, playing the bull to Moreno’s matador in every corner of the ring. Moreno weathered the early rounds with his usual defensive flair and athleticism, but Mares is a nonstop puncher who usually corners his man _ and he did it in the fifth round, staggering Moreno with a three-punch combination and then stepping back while Moreno fell to the canvas.
"I was a little shocked when he went down," Mares said. "I felt the punch, but didn’t think it was that powerful."
Machismo took over the fight in the eighth round, with both boxers taking turns standing still and daring the other to throw his best shot. Mares’ pursuit never stopped, however: He full-out sprinted after Moreno in the 12th round, with Moreno backpedaling at the same pace.
Judges Marty Denkin and David Sutherland scored the bout 116-110 for Mares, while James Jen Kin gave every round to Mares in a 120-106 whitewash. The Associated Press also scored it 116-110 for Mares.
"The fight should have been closer," said Moreno, who still holds a 118-pound title belt. "I’m unhappy that the one judge didn’t give me at least one round, but Abner fought a great fight. He’s a great champion. He was very strong, and I got caught by his shots. I was careless when I went down, but it was a great fight for the people. I’m happy for that."
Mares, who would love to fight Nonito Donaire next if their promoters could make nice, also showed his familiar lapses in punch discipline, hitting Moreno with a very low blow and a kidney punch. Mares didn’t lose a point, but Moreno was docked in the 11th round for dangerously pulling down Mares’ head in a clinch.
Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13 KOs) put a comprehensive beating on Zaleta, knocking down the challenger with a left hook to the liver in the fourth round and another body shot followed by a left uppercut in the seventh.
Zaleta (20-3-1) was extraordinarily game, surviving the onslaught until Santa Cruz’s left set up a straight right in the ninth that connected with Zaleta’s jaw and knocked the challenger sideways underneath the ropes.
"He made this a fight," said Santa Cruz, the Mexican-born slugger who fights out of nearby Lincoln Heights. "I was working the head and his body, and I finally caught him and he went down. He was blocking my shots at first, but I kept working."
Santa Cruz said he hopes to fight Mares next year.
Angulo (21-2, 18 KOs), the former 154-pound champion nicknamed "Perro," wept in the ring after depositing a senseless Casarez (19-3) on the canvas with one vicious hook. The all-action Angulo has been working on his defense under new trainer Virgil Hunter, but got little chance to show it off.
In the past year since James Kirkland stopped him in November 2011. Angulo was detained by U.S. immigration officials for seven months. The Mexican fighter apparently was living in the U.S. with an expired work visa, but only got out of INS detention in July.
"I had so much emotion during my ring walk," Angulo said. "I wanted to cry. I had to hold it in. I had a lot of pressure, but I knew I could get through it. I knew the dog was going to come back. ... I was listening to the crowd cheering for me, and I was overwhelmed. I could fight (again) in 20 minutes if you wanted."
Fighting outside of Britain for just the second time in his career, Cleverly (25-0, 12 KOs) had little trouble in his fourth title defense against Hawk (22-3-1), who took the bout on five days’ notice after contender Ryan Coyne dropped out.
"I’m really looking forward to coming to the U.S. again and fighting," Cleverly said. "I set up the fight to be fast, strong and exciting. I enjoyed this. I enjoy the atmosphere and the lighting at Staples Center. He was a top opponent, but eventually I broke him down, and it paid off."
Singer Tom Jones attended the fights to support Cleverly, his fellow Welshman. Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke, Lakers forward Metta World Peace, Clippers forward Caron Butler and jockey Mike Smith also were in the crowd.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)