Three-division titlist Abner Mares will face veteran Jonathan Oquendo in his first fight under trainer Virgil Hunter as the chief support on the Showtime PPV undercard of the July 12 Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara main event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Golden Boy Promotions' President Oscar De La Hoya announced on Monday.
Mares (26-1-1, 14 knockouts) was previously in consideration for the June 21 Showtime card at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., that will feature the Gary Russell Jr.-Vasyl Lomachenko WBO featherweight title bout as well as Robert Guerrero and Devon Alexander in bouts against Yoshihiro Kamegai and Jesus Soto Karass, respectively.
But given that Mares, THE RING's No. 2-ranked featehrweight, had only recently made the difficult decision to transition from longtime cornerman Clemente Medina to Hunter, the 28-year-old contender felt he needed time to adjust.
Instead, Mares will fight as a featherweight against the 30-year-old Oquendo (24-3, 16 KOs), who was last in action for a unanimous decision over Guillermo Avila in March that represented his second consecutive win since falling by seventh-round knockout to ex-beltholder Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in October 2012.
In other bouts, junior welterweight contender Johan Perez (19-1-1, 13 KOs) will battle former title challenger Mauricio Herrera (20-4, 7 KOs), ex-titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez (34-3, 31 KOs), of Puerto Rico, will clash with Franciso Vargas (19-0-1, 13 KOs) of Mexico.
"The Canelo vs. Lara card is shaping up to be an extraordinary one for fight fans around the world. When you get a Mexican fighter like Francisco Vargas and a Puerto Rican fighter like JuanMa Lopez together in the greatest nationalistic rivalry in all of boxing, there will be fireworks," said De La Hoya.
"Then you have Johan Perez and Mauricio Herrera, two skilled, hungry fighters who know their way around the sweet science, making this a dream fight. And, lastly, we have the highly-anticipated return of Abner Mares against hard-hitting Jonathan Oquendo. So get ready for another memorable night at MGM Grand in Las Vegas."
Mares was last in action in August, when he lost his WBC featherweight title in a shocking first-round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez, and later suffered a rib injury in Mexico City that scuttled his rematch with Gonzalez, slated for February. Mares was similarly injured in June 2012, when rib damage led to the cancelation of a clash with bantamweight Christian Esquivel.
"It's been a long time," said Mares, who was THE RING's No. 5-rated pound-for-pound fighter entering the bout with Gonzalez, representing the first defense of the belt he won by ninth-round knockout of Daniel Ponce de Leon in his 126-pound debut in May 2013.
"I can't wait to step into the ring and hear my name called again. Jonathan Oquendo is a respectable fighter, and I know he's coming to win, but he is in the way of another world title, so I have to get him out of there."
Oquendo's other losses were by disqualification to Oscar Andrade in April 2007, and by third-round knockout to Lopez in February 2008. Oquendo scored consecutive first-round knockouts between the losses to Andrade and Lopez, after which he won eight consecutive fights before falling to Vazquez.
"Puerto Rico vs. Mexico always produces great fights, and this fight won't be any different," said Oquendo, referring to the fact that he is of Puerto Rican descent and that Mares, who represented Mexico in the 2004 Olympics, is Mexican American. "A win over Mares will do big things for my career, and I plan on leaving Vegas with the victory."
The 30-year-old Lopez (34-3, 31 knockouts) was last in the ring against Ponce de Leon in March, rising from the canvas to twice floor the ex-titlist en route to a second round knockout win.
Their bout was a rematch of Lopez's first-round knockout of Ponce de Leon in June 2008. Ponce de Leon was the last man to defeat Gonzalez in an eighth-round technical decision in September 2012, ending Gonzalez's 12-fight winning streak which included 11 knockouts.
Prior to facing Ponce de Leon, Lopez had gone 3-3 in his previous six fights and was stopped in all his losses. Lopez suffered a fourth round knockout loss to Mikey Garcia last June while Lopez sandwiched a second-round TKO of Mike Oliver in October 2011 between stoppage losses to Orlando Salido in April 2011 and March 2012.
Lopez had won two fights within the distance before facing Garcia, and returns to the MGM Grand for the first time since scoring a ninth-round stoppage over ex-titleholder Rafael Marquez in November 2010.
"I'm in great shape. I have momentum on my side after beating Daniel Ponce De Leon, and I'm ready for Francisco Vargas," said Lopez. "The MGM Grand was where I had one of my biggest wins against Rafael Marquez, and I'm looking forward to more success there on July 12."
The 29-year-old Vargas is coming off three impressive wins, the most recent being last month's unanimous decision over Abner Cotto. Before facing Cotto, Vargas earned consecutive unanimous decision victories over previously unbeaten Brandon Bennett and Jerry Belmontes in August and December, respectively.
"JuanMa Lopez is a great fighter, and a two-time world champion, and we're going to give the fans a fight to remember," said Vargas. "I feel like this is my time, and with a win over JuanMa, it will get me that much closer to a world title shot."
A well-traveled Southern Californian who turned 34 on May 24, Herrera is coming off a disputed majority decision loss in March to RING/WBA/WBC 140-pound champ Danny Garcia (28-0, 16 KOs), and has out-pointed WBO titleholder Ruslan Provodnikov and suffered narrow decision setbacks to Karim Mayfield and Mike Alvarado. Provodnikov won the WBO belt by stopping Alvarado in 10 rounds in March of last year.
"I feel Herrera beat Garcia, and because of that, he is the best, and I want to fight the best," said Perez. "We're going to give the fans a great battle. Every fighter dreams of fighting in Las Vegas, and on July 12, I get my chance."
Perez, 30, has won four straight fights since falling by seventh-round technical decision loss to Pablo Cesar Cano in July 2012, and was last in action for a 10th-round stoppage of Fernando Monte de Oca on May 10.
"You have to respect Johan Perez for all he's accomplished in such a short time, and I see him as a very dangerous fighter," said Herrera. "But my only goal is to win the title, and to get there, I have to beat him on July 12."