When Abner Mares enters the ring for the Showtime-televised defense of his WBC junior featherweight belt opposite rising WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 10, the 26-year-old titleholder will be facing a once-beaten fighter who is ranked 10th in THE RING’s pound-for-pound ratings.
The Mexican-born Mares (24-0-1, 13 knockouts), of Los Angeles, already has faced elite rivals in five, 12-round title bouts, going 3-0-1, and overcoming intense moments of adversity in the ring.
But Moreno (33-1, 12 KOs) stands to offer Mares his most difficult task to date, owing to a crafty style that has produced a 27-bout winning streak that includes 10 knockouts.
Yet if it were up to Mares, it would not be Moreno standing in front of him next Saturday but someone who is perceived to be even more difficult: IBF and WBO counterpart Nonito Donaire.
Ranked No. 5 by THE RING, pound-for-pound, Donaire is expected to face popular Mexican veteran Jorge Arce in an HBO-televised Dec. 15 event at The Toyota Center in Houston.
Mares, who turns 27 on Nov. 28, thought he had perhaps secured a clash with Donaire after having vacated his IBF bantamweight title to make his 122-pound debut in April, when he vanquished ex-titleholder Eric Morel by unanimous decision for his current belt.
“Without a doubt. I have said that I wanted Donaire,” said Mares during a national media conference call on Thursday promoting his clash with Moreno. “I thought that it was going to be my next fight after the Morel fight.”
Promoted by Golden Boy, Mares figured that he had good reason to be optimistic about facing Donaire, particularly after rival Top Rank CEO, Bob Arum, appeared to express similar enthusiasm following Mares’ performance against Morel.
“Obviously, for some reasons, the fight [with Donaire] didn’t happen and it didn’t get made. This fight [with Moreno] came through, and it’s just as exciting a fight for the fans to look forward to,” said Mares.
“But, without a doubt, I would have taken, hands down, the Nonito Donaire fight. But, all I have to say is that this fight is done, and I’m fighting the Anselmo Moreno fight, and this is a tough fight. God-willing, if I win this fight, I really hope that we get that Nonito fight after this.”
Mares expressed frustration that the bout with Donaire never materialized, perhaps owing to the long-running, well-publicized acrimony between Golden Boy and Top Rank.
“Without a doubt, this is really frustrating for me. I’m a fighter, but I’m also a human, you know? The frustration comes,” said Mares, whose triumph over Morel came against a 1996 Olympian who had won his previous 11 fights, five of them by knockout.
“You wish that you could get these big fights and these big names. But you have to take time. It takes time. You just have to keep going and I can’t wait. I just take what Golden Boy offers me, and, obviously, this is it, and we’ll see after this.”
Donaire is coming off a ninth-round stoppage of Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka, whom he dropped twice on Oct. 13. Nishioka had not lost since losing a unanimous decision to long-reigning WBC bantamweight titleholder and Thai legend Veeraphol Sahaprom in March of 2004 — a span of eight years and seven months.
“Donaire is an explosive, really great fighter. His last performance against Nishioka, the fight was a little bit boring at the beginning, being that Nishioka wasn’t throwing that much, and he wasn’t giving that much. But Nonito found a way. He took his time and he got the knockout. He looked good,” said Mares.
“If I was to fight [Donaire,] obviously, I would fight him differently. It would be a great fight, I know, and I see that people want that fight. They know that I could give him a handful, and that I could give him a helluva a fight and definitely beat him. But, again, that’s in the future, so first things first.’
Mares is not one to avoid a challenge, having fought top-notch rivals over a more than a 20-month span through December of last year.
“You don’t pick your opponents, and I don’t like to pick my opponents. Whoever is there, and whoever is the best, I’ll fight them, and that’s no matter what style they bring,” said Mares.
“I just got to concentrate and figure them out. That’s what this beautiful sport is about. It’s about figuring out your opponents. It’s been like a chess game inside the ring, so I’ve just got to perform.”
It was in May of 2010 that Mares fought to the 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.
Mares earned the IBF title last August from 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.
The Darchinyan bout featured a knockdown by each fighter, with Mares having to endure bleeding over the left side of his forehead from a first-round clash of heads, as well as being dropped by a hard, straight left in the second round.
Mares’ face was a battered mask of crimson in the end, but he persevered to vanquish the Armenian-born southpaw Darchinyan, whom Moreno beat by unanimous decision in December of last year.
“Those are totally different styles. Both men were southpaws when they fought, and I was fighting southpaws,” said Mares, of the comparisons of himself against Darchynian, and Moreno against him.
“It’s just the way that I have to prepare, because he’s a different fighter. Different styles make for different style matchups, so you can’t compare that fight.”
Mares acknowledged the difficulty posed by Moreno’s skills.
“Well, it’s a big challenge [facing Moreno,] believe me. The challenges keep getting bigger and bigger as I keep fighting, and I want that to continue. Obviously, I’ve fought nothing but ex-world champions, current world champions in my last four or five fights. Definitely, everybody was good in their own styles,” said Mares.
“Anselmo brings in another different style, and a unique style, you could say. It’s a great style that works for him, because he’s a really defensive fighter, and again, we train hard, and this is what we train for. On Nov. 10, people going to see a different Abner, as they always see every single fight, and I can’t wait to face this new style that I’ve never faced.”
The strategy, said Mares, is to force the action against Moreno.
“Moreno is comfortable fighting me by staying at his distance, giving him the chance to just counter me or do whatever he wants from his distance,” said Mares.
“So I’ve got to be up close, and I’ve just got to make it my fight. If I have to make it an ugly fight, then so be it, as long as I just make it my fight, and he gets uncomfortable in there.”
Mares makes no secret of his desire to achieve the status of fighters such as Donaire and Moreno.
“I not so much a concern, but there is a little bit of frustration that I’ve faced all of these tough opponents, back-to-back-to-back, and, really, thank God, there are some great fans out there who have given me the recognition and know who I am,” said Mares.
“But, obviously, there are other fighters out there who don’t have the resume that I have. But I know that my time will come, and that I’ve got to be patient. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve just got to keep pushing myself and keep on going.”
Photo by Carlos Delgado, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Photos by Tom Casino, Showtime
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org