Rising two-division titlewinner Abner Mares knows that he will be in against the largest, strongest and hardest-punching opponent that he has faced when he challenges WBC featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce de Leon on Saturday night’s Showtime Pay Per View card headlined by the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“That four pounds makes a big difference I don’t have to struggle to make the weight, so I feel very, very strong,” said Mares (25-0-1, 13 knockouts), a former bantamweight who will be in against a tough-minded southpaw in Ponce de Leon (44-4, 35 KOs).
“In my sparring, I’ve been sparring against guys that are bigger, lightweights, junior welterweights. But I’ll know on fight night what I have to do to be successful. On fight night, it will be different, stepping up in weight, but right now, I feel very, very strong.”
A former 122-pound beltholder, Ponce de Leon, 32, won his current title with an eight-round technical decision over Jhonny Gonzalez last September, ending a 12-fight winning streak that included 11 knockouts for Gonzalez, who was dropped in the sixth round.
Mares respects Ponce de Leon’s power and size, even as he appears ready to make adjustments in order to handle those aspects.
“It’s a big factor, knowing that I’m stepping into a heavier weight class, and already going in against a heavy puncher. It’s hard, but I think that it’s all mental,” said Mares.
“That night I’m going to let it be known that skills and smartness kills power and pressure any day. So I think that’s going to be my key, and I plan to put it to work on May 4.”
Ponce de Leon’s most recent losses were to Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is now a junior lightweight contender planning to fight at lightweight, and Adrien Broner, now lightweight titleholder who is scheduled to fight for a welterweight title. Ponce de Leon fought Gamboa at 127 pounds (one pound over the featherweight division limit) and Broner up at 130 pounds.
“I’ve fought as high as 130, and I noticed the difference in size and in power, so I know that he’s going to feel the difference as well,” said Ponce de Leon.
“It’s hard to just jump all of a sudden to another weight class and to be fighting for the world title. That’s very, very tough. But even though I see that, I’m going to be very, very careful and still think about my game plan. I’m preparing myself as if I’m fighting a solid, 126-pound featherweight in my division.”
Ponce de Leon has been stopped only once, and that was in the first round by Juan Manuel Lopez as junior featherweights in June of 2008.
“Abner is very similar to [Broner and Gamboa.] He’s a good, technician and he has a very, very good style, but the difference is that he’s smaller. I fought both Gamboa and Broner at 130, and they were bigger guys, and I fought Jhonny Gonzalez at 126 in a tough fight against a good technician. It wasn’t that easy. But the difference is that Abner’s a smaller guy,” said Ponce de Leon.
“But, nevertheless, I know that it’s going to be a hard, tough fight, and that’s what I’ve prepared myself for. It’s going to be a hard, tough fight and the most important thing is to make a good fight. Obviously, depending on how the fight goes, if I see that there is a big advantage in using my size and my power, then I’m going to take advantage of that. But at the same time, since he is a smaller guy, he can very well be faster. So I’ve got to be careful with that as well.”
Mares is looking to do as well, or better, than Gamboa, Broner and Lopez did against Ponce de Leon.
“I think that I’ve proven myself to a certain point by having fought all of the name fighters that I’ve fought, and that people know that I’m not afraid to face anyone. There are some big, elite names that I’ve fought,” said Mares.
“Anybody who knows boxing knows that I’ll fight anybody on any given Day. Of course, I’ve got this big fight against Daniel Ponce de Leon, and, God-willing, getting past this fight with a victory, I’ll be definitely looking for bigger names as well.”
In victory over Ponce de Leon, Mares could add to an already exemplery resume that includes having twice beaten ex-beltholder Joseph Agbeko, earned a decision over former beltholder Vic Darchinyan and battled to a draw with then-beltholder Yonnhy Perez – all over a 20-month span as a bantamweight.
After defeating Agbeko by consecutive majority and unanimous decisions, the latter in December of 2011, Mares rose to 122 pounds for a unanimous decision over ex-beltholder Eric Morel in April to earn the WBC’s belt.
In November of last year, Mares scored a unanimous decision over WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno (33-2-1, 12 KOs), who rose in weight to challenge for the junior featherweight belt. Mares dropped the Panamanian in the fifth round and ended his 27-bout winning streak.
Mares knows that a win over Ponce de Leon could land him coveted mention among lists such as the RING’s pound-for-pound with the likes of Broner, Andre Ward, Tim Bradley and Nonito Donaire, who are ranked Nos. 5, 2, 9 and 10, respectively.
“I’m not quite yet to that level, which I think that I deserve, but I think that everything will start coming in. I know that Bradley’s fought a lot of great fights, and it only took him that one fight over Manny Pacquiao to really get him recognized,” said Mares.
“I am looking for that big fight, and I think I’ve had six really good fights already. But I just plan to keep on going and not stopping here. After Ponce, I plan on fighting any of the other top, elite fighters. I just hope that I do get the recognition after this fight that I’m going to be in on May 4.”
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com