LAS VEGAS — RingTV.com caught up to Abner Mares prior to Saturday night’s press conference following his ninth-round stoppage of Daniel Ponce de Leon for the WBC’s featherweight title, which made Mares a three-division titlewinner at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Ponce is a fighter that opens up a lot, so I saw a lot of opportunities, and I took them,” said Mares (26-0-1, 14 knockouts), a former bantamweight who scored knockdowns in the second and ninth rounds of his 126-pound debut against Ponce de Leon (44-5, 35 KOs).
“One of them was the left hook that I caught him with and dropped him in the second round, and then, the overhand right when he tried to exchange punches. He’s the type of fighter that opens up, so I caught him clean with that overhand right and was able to end it in the ninth.”
A 32-year-old former 122-pound beltholder, Ponce de Leon had won his title with an eight-round technical decision over Jhonny Gonzalez last September, ending a 12-fight winning streak that included 11 knockouts for Gonzalez.
“I stuck to my game plan, you know, the Mexican Judo. Ju-don’t know if I was going to box, or ju-don’t know if I was going to brawl. I think I did that and I stuck to a smart fight. I always knew that I had power,” said Mares, 27.
“I told everybody that I had knocked down a lot of my opponents. Obviously, it’s a different weight class, and I was the new kid and the smaller guy, but I proved everybody wrong. They were saying that I was going to get out-worked by a heavier guy and I think that I did my work.”
Mares added Ponce de Leon to an already impressive resume, 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 of last year to earn the WBC’s belt.
In November of last year, Mares scored a unanimous decision over WBA bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno, 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.
“This win over Ponce is definitely the top,” said Mares. “I think that this is the fight where I proved that I’m a pound-for-pound fighter. This was definitely it.”
Mares said prior to the fight that he would seek out new challenges in victory, perhaps even against promotional stablemates such as 126-pounder Gary Russell Jr. (22-0, 13 KOs) or junior featherweight Leo Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KOs).
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer called Mares’ triumph “definitely a pound-for-pound” performance.
“This was a pound-for-pound performance. Abner is clearly the best in this weight class, no question about it. We’ll see what we’re going to do next, but who wouldn’t want to see him in against Leo Santa Cruz?” said Schaefer.
“It was an amazing, complete performance. This guy, you really don’t know how hard Ponce hits. But Mares was taking punches and he was dishing it out. He is just a complete fighter. You saw a little bit of everything. What an exciting guy.”
Other potential opponents for Mares would be Nonito Donaire, current RING, WBA and WBO titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux, JuanMa Lopez, Orlando Salido or RING and WBO featherweight champion Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia — though all five are handled by Golden Boy rival Top Rank and thus the bouts are unlikely to happen. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has Garcia facing Lopez on June 15.
“I think that I proved my skills more than anything. This was a more poised Abner Mares. This was a calm Abner. I did my work,” said Mares. “And this was a great place to do it. I did it on the undercard of a Mayweather fight. I would like to fight anyone and I would do anything. You know that. I want the big fights.”
Mares dedicated the fight to his ailing father, Ismael, who suffered a stroke “about a month ago.”
“Dad, I love you, daddy. I appreciate everything that you’ve done,” said Mares. “I’m a boxer because of you, and that’s why I dedicated this fight to you. I love you, and there’s plenty more world titles coming.”
Photos by Al Bello, Getty Images
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org