Eric Morel didn’t seem to be the least bit embarrassed immediately after his near-shutout loss to Abner Mares on Saturday night in El Paso, Texas. He, better than anyone, knew what we all witnessed.
“Abner Mares is just a great fighter. A lot of fighters, a lot of people, are going to have big problems with him,” Morel said.
That’s certainly how it looked.
Mares, 26, turned in the performance of his career, dominating an aging but still-capable former titleholder from the opening bell through a scintillating 12th and final round to win the vacant WBC junior featherweight title.
The Southern Californian was the aggressor throughout, pounding Morel’s head and body with equal accuracy and viciousness. Mares exhibited unusual ferocity and seemed to relish the warfare like never before, smiling at times during a taxing fight as if to say, “Man, I love this.”
Mares also outboxed the boxer, setting up many of his power shots with a consistent jab and slipping most of Morel’s best punches.
In the end, it couldn’t have been more clear that Mares outworked his 36-year-old opponent almost every round, which why the judges scored it 120-107, 119-109 and 119-109 in his favor. THE RING had it 119-109 for the new titleholder.
The only thing Mares didn’t do was score a knockout, a fact we should attribute at least in part to Morel’s surprisingly strong chin and resilience. Other than that, it was dazzling night for one of the sport’s most compelling – and best – little fighters.
Mares (24-0-1, 13 knockouts) was fighting at junior featherweight for the first time in two years, weighing in at 119½, and couldn’t have felt more comfortable.
“I felt stronger,” he said afterward. “I felt more complete. Everything is there.”
Morel (46-3, 23 KOs) had put together a remarkable comeback after a three-year hiatus from the sport to serving a prison term for sexual assault, going 11-0 since his return going into Saturday’s fight.
And while he ended up on the wrong side of a one-sided decision, he appears to remain a very good fighter. He landed hard punches at various points of the fight and never gave up.
Those who watched it will never forget the 12th round, in which the old man gave everything he had in a desperate attempt to pull out a miracle victory and regain a major title eight years after he last held one.
Morel simply was outclassed by a better fighter.
The native of Puerto Rico, who competed for the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics, was asked afterward whether the fight might’ve been different if he were 10 years younger and he gave an honest – and classy – answer.
“The time really doesn’t matter,” he said. “He probably would’ve done the same thing. He’s a great fighter; no doubt about it. He’s one of the best fighters I’ve ever faced.”
What’s next for Mares?
Two possibilities are particularly intriguing. One is WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno, a boxing wizard whose ninth-round knockout of David De La Mora on the Mares-Morel undercard was at least as impressive as Mares’ victory.
Both Mares and Moreno are promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, which would make it an easy fight to put together.
Another possibility is Nonito Donaire, the exciting Filipino-American who is promoted by Golden Boy rival Top Rank. That matchup would be a lucrative attraction because of the popularity of both fighters.
Mares doesn’t seem to care who he fights. He wants them all regardless of any risk.
“Let’s go one by one, baby,” he said with a big grin. “Any of them. I know I would give them a great fight. I always said I’m not afraid to lose. Let’s give the fans a great fight.
“Win or lose, let’s do it for the fans.”
You gotta love Mares.