LOS ANGELES – If there’s a poster boy for an elite-level “high-risk, low reward” opponent, it’s probably Anselmo Moreno
The 27-year-old veteran is a slick southpaw technician who boxes with finesse and authority. Moreno (33-1-1, 12 knockouts), who has held WBA bantamweight title since 2008, earned his reputation as a stylistic nightmare for even world-class fighters during a nine-year, 27-bout win streak.
Victories over former titleholders Vic Darchinyan, Nehomar Cermeno (twice), Mahyar Monshipour, Wladimir Sidorenko (twice) and Felix Machado have elevated Moreno to No. 1 in THE RING’s bantamweight rankings and earned him a No. 10 spot in the magazine’s pound-for-pound ratings.
However, the Panamanian isn’t a puncher or an overly aggressive fighter, so he’s mainly appreciated by boxing purists. And he’s only fought twice on U.S. television (his last two bouts – a ninth-round TKO of David De La Mora in April and his impressive one-sided decision over Darchinyan last December – which were on Showtime), so American fans are just beginning to recognize him.
In other words, Moreno is not the type of opponent most young titleholders would choose to face when on the cusp of crossover recognition, as WBC 122-pound beltholder Abner Mares is.
But then, Mares (24-0-1, 13 KOs), who defends his title against Moreno in the main event of a Showtime broadcast from Staples Center on Nov. 10, is cut from a different than cloth than most potential stars in today’s fight game.
The former IBF bantamweight titleholder, who is now THE RING’s No. 7-rated junior featherweight, has earned his status in the sport with five consecutive bouts against RING-rated fighters – all of which were televised by Showtime. Notable bouts during that run include a hard-fought draw against Yonnhy Perez, an unbeaten titleholder at the time, a grueling split-decision over Darchinyan and back-to-back fights with two-time beltholder Joseph Agbeko.
Some would say that Mares has a right to take a “gimme” fight against an overmatched opponent, or at least a boxer who isn’t as skilled and stylistically complex as Moreno. Mares isn’t one of those people.
“I know that Anselmo Moreno is a really hard fight for me; that’s why I want to fight him,” Mares said during the kick-off press conference at the ESPNZone at L.A. LIVE on Tuesday. “I’d rather have people respect me than like me. You get respect by fighting the good fighters like Anselmo.
“I want to fight the best and I’m proving it by fighting Moreno.”
Mares’ willingness to challenge himself was a pleasant change for Moreno and his management.
“I’ve always had the same problem with Anselmo that I’ve had with my other southpaw fighters like (middleweight champ) Sergio Martinez and (130-pound contender) Javier Fortuna – nobody wants to fight them,” Moreno’s manager Sampson Lewkowicz said. “It’s a little easier with Sergio these days because he brings money to the table, but with Anselmo I had gotten used to the top fighters turning him down.
“The only one who would take the fight was Abner Mares.”
Even fans who are critical of Mares – and there are more than a few floating around in the Twitterverse – at least grudgingly give the 24-year-old Southern Californian his due respect for taking on Moreno.
However, it’s not the matchup most hardcore fans were asking for. Fans have salivated over a showdown between Mares and Nonito Donaire since both were 118-pound titleholders. Donaire, who fights Japanese veteran Toshiaki Nishioka next Saturday, stepped up to the junior featherweight division in February and has since won two major 122-pound titles. Mares followed suit in April when he won the vacant WBC 122-pound belt (formerly held by Nishioka) with a unanimous decision over Eric Morel.
Both standouts have publicly stated that they are willing to face each other but the cold war between their promoters (Mares is backed by Golden Boy Promotions, while Donaire fights under the Top Rank banner) has prevented any serious negotiations for that fight.
Some fans and media believe that Golden Boy had no choice but to push Mares to fight Moreno, who they also promote, because Top Rank promotes most of the notable 122-pound fighters, including Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Arce and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.
Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya says his company did not have the Top Rank beef in mind when Mares-Moreno was made.
“The only thought we had was to make the best fight possible,” De La Hoya said after the press conference.
“As for Donaire or any other 122-pound champion for Abner, we’re always willing to work with anyone to make the fights that the fans want. The door is always open, and that includes Top Rank. We want what’s best for our fighters.”
Mares believes what’s best for him is to stay busy against the best possible opposition.
“I’ve wanted to fight Donaire for a while, but I can’t sit around and wait for him,” Mares said. “I have to fight other top fighters, and Moreno is definitely one of the best. He’s very technical and he’s got a very difficult style, but that’s what I need.
“I feel like I get better every time I fight a fighter who is on my level, or a fighter that people think is better than me.”
More than a few fans believe Moreno has too much skill for Mares to handle, a notion the 2004 Mexican Olympian’s trainer, Clemente Media, takes exception to.
“I agree that Moreno is a really, really good fighter with good head and lateral movement, but Abner is stronger and he has experience fighting slick southpaws from the amateurs,” Medina said. “Abner fought a good fight with Rigondeaux in the amateurs and he’s more mature now.
“He’s got to work his pressure and move his head more than usual to get inside because Moreno is very accurate, but Abner will test him on the inside. I want him to work the body a lot, especially early in the fight. The head will come later.”
Mares says he isn’t quite sure how he will fight Moreno, but he’s confident that he will figure out the tall, rangy boxer during the bout as he did with Darchinyan and Agbeko.
“Moreno has more fights than I do but he doesn’t have the names I have on my record,” Mares said. “I think I have better experience, but we’ll see once we get into the ring.”
Moreno, who claims that he will be just as fast and slick at 122 pounds as he usually is at 118, is also taking a wait-and-see approach to this matchup.
“Who has more experience? Who has better experience?” he asked rhetorically through Lewkowicz. “I can’t tell you. We will see on Nov. 10.”