CARSON, Calif. – With a single punch in the opening round, a new champion was crowned and a favorite for Upset of the Year emerged.
The monstrous left hook Jhonny Gonzalez landed didn’t end the fight, but heavy favorite Abner Mares never recovered from the blow Saturday during the main event of Showtime Championship Boxing before 7,686 at the StubHub Center.
Mares (26-1-1, 13 knockouts) absorbed the flush shot, then stumbled to his feet and referee Jack Reiss allowed the bout to continue. But moments later, Mares once again was on the floor, and this time it was over, just 2:35 into Round 1.
“This moment, this is the single greatest and most glorious moment of my life,” Gonzalez reflected. “People didn’t give me the respect I deserved and treated me as a stepping-stone for Mares. They were making plans for a fight with (Leo) Santa Cruz before fighting me first.
“When I dropped him for the first time, I knew he was hurt,” Gonzalez added. “I had to go in for the kill. I didn’t want to let him survive. It was just a matter of time before I would knock him down again.”
Gonzalez (55-8, 47 KOs) winning was a stunning result. That he put Mares away in the first round made it all the more impressive. Mares, THE RING’s No. 2 featherweight, was a budding star and hadn’t lost a single pro fight before Saturday. But Gonzalez remains one of the biggest punchers in the sport and displayed his vaunted fight-ending power once again.
“I’m OK. I have to learn how to win as well as learn how to lose,” Mares, 25, said. “I’m in the sport not to remain undefeated, but to fight the best. I was all right after the knockdown, but the ref did his job and I respect him. Now I’m going to take a break and relax with my family.”
Gonzalez, 31, regained the belt he lost to Daniel Ponce de Leon last September. Mares, of Hawaiian Gardens, Calif., went on to beat Ponce de Leon for the belt in May, but never made a successful defense. Now the belt is back around Gonzalez’s waist.
Gonzalez, THE RING’s No. 4 126-pounder, revived his career with the win. He was an afterthought heading into the fight, as the bout was meant to be a showcase for Mares and Santa Cruz ahead of a fight down the line. Santa Cruz took care of business in the night’s co-feature, a blistering third-round stoppage of Victor Terrazas. Gonzalez spoiled the other half of the plan.
Gonzalez, of Mexico City, endured a rough stretch from 2006 to 2009, when he suffered three losses by stoppage. He re-energized his career in 2011 with a surprise stoppage of Hozumi Hasegawa and turned the trick again Saturday.
It’s unclear if a rematch will be next, but Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer informed reporters at ringside that they have three direct options for the new champion. Aside from a rematch, few attractive bouts are out there for Gonzalez.
“You have to enjoy the fights,” Schaefer said. “We all think we know what is going to happen. I was reading a story where THE RING polled 19 experts, probably some of you, and all 19 picked Abner Mares. We think we know everything, but the truth is we don’t and that is why boxing is so exciting.”
Boxing indeed is the theater of the unexpected. If fans forgot that truism, they were reminded with Gonzalez’s destruction of Mares.
Long live the underdog.
Photos by Harry How-Gettyimages
Mike Coppinger is a contributor to USA TODAY’s boxing coverage. Follow Mike Coppinger on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger