For years Abner Mares trained far removed him from his friends and loved ones in Southern California, a sacrifice the young bantamweight up-and-comer was willing to make in order to learn from the some of the best minds in boxing.
However, the unbeaten contender’s separation from his family became increasingly excruciating following the birth of his daughter, Emily, four years ago.
After missing Emily’s fourth birthday while preparing for his title fight with Yonnhy Perez in May, Mares vowed to train close to home for his next fight, which happens to be a high-stakes showdown with Vic Darchinyan on Saturday in Tacoma, Wash.
“I know fighters always say they’re in the best shape of their lives after each camp, but I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better before a fight than I do now,” Mares told RingTV.com before a Monday workout at the Maywood Boxing Club in Maywood, Calif., which is a 20-minute drive from his home in Norwalk. “I’m really comfortable, but in a good way. Some fighters need to be away from home and away from distractions, but I’m different.
“I think it kills my motivation when I’m apart from my family. I don’t train with the same energy.”
Mares (20-0-1, 13 knockouts) will need plenty of energy as well as the lessons he has learned from his numerous past trainers for Saturday’s fight, which is part of Showtime’s four-man bantamweight tournament.
Darchinyan (35-2-1, 27 KOs) is a seasoned veteran who possesses a bizarrely awkward style and bone-jarring power that helped the supremely confident southpaw win four major titles (one at flyweight and three at junior bantamweight, at which the Armenian is rated No. 1 by THE RING).
If Mares beats Darchinyan, his next fight will be a title shot against the winner of the Perez-Joseph Agbeko rematch, which is the main event in Tacoma and the other half of Showtime’s tournament semifinals.
However, Mares isn’t thinking about next year’s tournament finals. The 25-year-old native of Guadalajara, Jalisco, is focused on Darchinyan, who likes to boast that he has never been defeated by a Mexican fighter.
“This fight is more significant to me than a title fight,” Mares said. “Part of it is because of the name Darchinyan brings but it’s also a big deal for my country. Vic has beaten a lot of Mexican fighters.”
However, the hard-punching junior bantamweight titleholder has never faced a Mexican fighter with Mares‘ style, which is a blend of traditional Mexican and American boxing techniques.
“I like to call myself a puncher-boxer,” Mares said, “but when it comes down to it, I guess I’m an offensive-minded technician, like Juan Manuel Marquez.”
It should come as no surprise if his boxing stance occasionally reminds some fans of the veteran lightweight champ. Mares worked with Marquez’s respected trainer, Nacho Beristain, in Mexico City for 2½ years.
Prior to his time with Beristain, Mares seemed to switch trainers at least once a year. He turned pro in early 2005 under the tutelage of Clemente Medina, who trained him for his first six fights with the assistance of then-adviser Joe Hernandez. During his second year in the pro ranks, Mares relocated to Las Vegas to train with Floyd Mayweather Sr. After one year, he trained with the late Oscar Suarez in Big Bear, Calif., for a brief period, before hooking up with Beristain.
Mares split with the renowned Mexican trainer over managerial issues last summer and joined Joel Diaz’s growing stable of fighters in the desert area of Coachella, Calif., for one year before reuniting with Medina for the Darchinyan fight.
Mares said returning to Medina was not because he was dissatisfied with Diaz, who trained him for three fights, including a scintillating 12-round draw with Perez, which many observers thought he deserved to win.
“He’s a terrific trainer,” Mares said of Diaz, a former pro boxer who has guided junior welterweight standout Timothy Bradley to two major 140-pound titles. “I wanted to stay with Joel but the desert was too far for me to drive back home every day. I had hoped he could move camp closer to home but couldn’t leave Coachella because he’s getting Bradley ready for the Devon Alexander fight.”
Another training camp in the desert was not an option for Mares, who said he could no longer bear to be apart from his daughter.
“I’ve always had to train away from home, even early on when I was with Clemente because Joe Hernandez wanted all of his fighters in an apartment complex away from their families,” he said. “I never liked doing that, but I did it because I knew it was best for my career at the time.
“The birth of my daughter, more than anything else, made being away too tough. After I missed her fourth birthday training for Perez in the desert, I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that again. Emily is everything to me.”
No one can fault Mares’ priorities but some question whether it’s wise to switch trainers just before a dangerous fight.
His manager, Frank Espinoza, isn’t concerned.
“Abner has so much natural ability I think you can put him with any good trainer and get the same results,” Espinoza said. “His amateur background also helps in that regard. He was a decorated amateur, a member of Mexico’s 2004 Olympic team. He was fairly advanced as a fighter when he turned pro, as Clemente can tell you. And he’s smart, so I think he’s been able to pick up rather quickly what all of his trainers have tried to teach him.”
Normally, it’s counterproductive for a developing young fighter to have as many trainers as Mares has worked with, but the Southern Californian appears to have benefited from the various styles instilled in him by the diverse group of coaches.
Mares is an aggressive-but-versatile boxer who can stick and move behind an educated jab or apply relentless pressure with crisp combinations and a devastating body attack. However, he usually exhibits smart head-and-upper-body movement as he walks his opponents down.
“I’ve done nothing but learn from all of my trainers,” Mares said. “If you take a close look at my recent fights, you’ll see something from all of them — Nacho, Mayweather, Oscar. You’ll see something from Joel and Clemente in this fight.”
If that’s true, fans who tune into the Showtime broadcast at 9 p.m. ET (live)/PT (delayed) Saturday are in for a treat. Diaz and Medina, who is best known for his work with junior middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo, are offense-minded trainers.
And Darchinyan, despite being the older, smaller man, is an offensive threat to be reckoned with. The 34-year-old veteran is by far the most-experienced foe Mares has faced, and he probably hits harder than anyone the younger man has fought.
Darchinyan has lost only once — a 12-round decision to Agbeko in a bid for a bantamweight title last July — since suffering a shocking KO loss to Nonito Donaire in 2007. Between those losses (the only two of his career), the power-punching southpaw looked like an elite fighter knocking out junior bantamweight titleholders Dmitry Kirillov and Crisitian Mijares in 2008 before he brutalized popular Mexican brawler Jorge Arce to an 11-round TKO last February.
Darchinyan caught Mares’ attention after upsetting heavily favored Mijares.
“I thought Mijares was going to use his boxing skills to beat Darchinyan, but he was pulling back too much in that fight,” Mares said. “Darchinyan throws punches while coming forward, and Mijares gave him too much space and too much respect. He waited on Darchinyan and didn’t use his reach.”
Whether boxing or fighting, Mares says he won’t make the same mistakes Mijares made against Darchinyan.
“Darchinyan can be beat in two different ways,” Mares said. “Donaire used his jab, boxed from the outside and timed him with a perfect punch. Agbeko used Vic’s own game against him. He bullied Darchinyan and used his greater strength to push him back. Vic doesn’t let his hands go as much when he’s being pushed back.
“I think I can do both. I don’t plan on boxing for 12 rounds.”