Lem Satterfield

Mares vacates IBF belt, pursues Morel for April

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THE RING’s No. 2-rated bantamweight, Abner Mares, has vacated his IBF belt in favor of rising in weight for a junior featherweight clash with the magazine’s No. 4-rated contender, Eric Morel, on April 21 on Showtime, according to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer.

Mares (23-0-1, 13 knockouts) earned the IBF title last August from Joseph Agbeko, and his only defense was a mandated return bout following the controversy over referee Russell Mora’s failure to penalize Mares for low blows in the first fight. Mares won the rematch by unanimous decision.

“Yes. Mares has vacated the title,” said Schaefer, referring to the Mexican-born, Montebello, Calif., resident. “We will do Mares vs. Morel in a classic Mexico vs. Puerto Rico showdown.”

Golden Boy Promotions’ matchmaker and Vice President, Eric Gomez, said the deal for Mares-Morel is “close” to being done, and that the fight will take place “most likely in Mexico City.”

“We are currently looking at venues in Mexico, and it’s going to be part of a big event together with Televisa. They’re going to have some sort of a special where they’re going to combine some great fights with the most famous bands from Mexico on the same night,” said Schaefer. 

“So it’s going to be a huge event, and we’re looking at what looks like it might be an event in one of the biggest venues in Mexico City.”

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker, told RingTV.com on Wednesday that “we received a letter on Feb. 1 from Golden Boy saying that they appreciate him being the champ, but that they’re vacating the title.”

“I know that Abner can still make 118, and it is getting harder, but it’s not like he can’t. But I know that it’s getting closer to the time where he should start to move up, and we want to get bigger and better fights, and that’s why we’re doing it,” said Mares’ manager, Frank Espinoza.

“That’s the direction that we’re going in, but it’s not finalized yet. We want to be able to move up to where Abner feels comfortable. We want to make sure that we finalize that situation as to whether he moves up now, which I know is something that he really wants to do and what he’s told me. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Tucker said that Mares has opened the door for South Africa’s Vusi Malinga (20-3-1, 12 KOs) to face A.J. Banal (26-1-1, 19 KOs) of the Philippines for the vacant belt.

“The No. 1 guy is Vusi Malinga, from South Africa, and he’s been ordered to fight No. 3-ranked Alex Banal from the Philippines for the vacant title. We’re hoping that it takes place within the next 90 days,” said Tucker.

“We start out by giving them 30 days to negotiatate, so by around March 6, if they can’t reach an agreement, then we’ll order a purse bid which adds another 10 or 12 days to the process.”

Over a 20-month span, Mares, who is 26, has beaten Agbeko twice, former titleholder Vic Darchinyan once, and battled to a draw with ex-beltholder Yonnhy Perez.

In May of 2010, Mares fought to a draw with the then-unbeaten Perez in a failed attempt to earn the IBF belt before defeating Darchinyan by a split decision in December of that same year.

“Nothing against Malinga, who was my mandatory, but I had already planned to move up in weight to the [junior featherweight] division. There’s not much more that I can accomplish as a bantamweight,” said Mares.

“I’ve fought the best ats bantamweight, and taken care of business there, and now, it’s time to move on. I’m ready to move on and to try to fight some of the best at super bantamweight.”

Among those Mares mentioned as potential opponents in the 122-pound division are Nonito Donaire  and the man he vanquished last Saturday by split-decision for the WBO junior featherweight belt, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.

“There is no doubt that I’m not looking past my next fight, but starting with Eric Morel, I would like to maybe set myself up for a title by the end of the year. There’s great fight, and definitely, the guy that everybody has in mind is Nonito Donaire. He’s considered to be, pound-for-pound, one of the bet fighters out there,” said Mares. 

“That would definitely be a great test for myself. There’s even Rafael Marquez or even the Vazquez guy that just fought Nonito Donaire. I’m really excited and looking forward to the 122-pound division, because it’s packed with some great fighters, so you definitely can’t go wrong with a lot of them.”

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A Puerto Rican-born Madison, Wis., resident and former 1996 Olympian who is nicknamed “Little Hands Of Steel,” Morel (46-2, 23 KOs) has won his past 11 fights, five of them by knockout.

Morel won the WBA flyweight belt by unanimous decision over Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym in August of 2000 and defended that crown five times — twice by knockout– before losing it by unanimous decision to Lorenzo Parra in December of 2003.

In March of 2005, Morel lost his bid for the WBA’s junior bantamweight title by unanimous decision to Martin Castillo, and was subsequently convicted and imprisoned for three years for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl.

Morel returned to the ring with an eight-round, unanimous decision over Felipe Almanza in February of 2008 to begin his current winning streak.

“Every opponet, in their way, they’re very tough. I know Morel is an experienced fighter and I know that it’s going to be a tough fight for me because I know that he’s going to come with everything that he can. He’s going to want to win,” said Mares.

“For myself, if I lose, then it’s going to put me down and take away all of the momentum that I’ve built up. So it’s a really important fight for me. So at the end of the day, facing Morel, I just can’t wait for it. I’m in the gym right now getting ready for this guy, because it’s going to be a tough fight.”

Photos by Naoki Fukuda

Lem Satterfield can be reached at lemuel.satterfield@gmail.com

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