by Francisco Salazar
You would think Abner Mares has faced adversity to the highest degree in the ring over the last couple of years.
Actually it is true Mares has faced one tough hombre after another. Not only has he fought them, but he has won every fight since a majority decision draw to Yonnhy Perez over four years ago. Even in that fight, a majority of press thought Mares did enough to win.
Believe it or not, Mares has faced tougher challengers than Daniel Ponce De Leon, Anselmo Moreno, and Vic Darchinyan.
Only these challenges were outside of the ring. They were on the rough neighborhoods of the Los Angeles suburb of Hawaiian Gardens. It was having to come back from an eye injury that required surgery to continue his career.
So people would think that Mares is getting a “breather” of sorts when he steps inside the ring this Saturday night at the Stubhub (formerly Home Depot) Center in Carson, CA. He is fighting Jhonny Gonzalez, the hard-hitting Mexican who has won world title belts in two weight classes.
People could think that, but Mares is not one to buy in he is taking a break from fighting a murderer’s row of featherweights in the near or distant future.
“This is still going to be a tough fight for me,” said Mares.
The 12 round bout between Mares and Gonzalez will headline a Golden Boy Promotions card and will be televised, along with the Victor Terrazas-Leo Santa Cruz fight, live at 10:30PM ET/ 7:30 PM PT on Showtime.
And why should people think Mares is never in a tough fight? That is why fight fans are endeared to him and even his detractors respect him. It is what the boxing world has accustomed to seeing in Mares.
While Mares (26-0-1, 14 KOs) may be at the peak of his career (he will turn 28 in November) and may have a speed advantage in this fight, he is not underestimating Gonzalez whatsoever.
“I respect him for what he has done in the sport,” Mares told Boxingscene.com this past Saturday at the Elite MMA Academy in Santa Fe Springs, CA. “He’s been a two-time champion with over 60 fights. He has an impressive resume.”
Mares, who once sparred with Gonzalez back in 2006, seems to not mind facing punchers. In his last fight on May 4th in Las Vegas, Mares traded with hard-hitting Daniel Ponce De Leon before dropping him twice to earn the technical knockout victory.
While it was a risky, but effective plan, Mares believes that fighting the toughest fights does pay huge dividends, however much longer his career will last.
“This is what we as boxers should do,” said Mares, who represented Mexico in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. “We should fight those number one contenders. That’s normal to me. I don’t mind tough fight after tough fight.”
“I don’t want to leave this sport when I’m old. I want to still be young enough to leave the sport. That’s why I still learn a lot, especially in not getting hit a lot.”
It is hard not to root for a guy like Mares, someone who is proud of his Mexican roots, but grateful for the American dream he lives in today. While he has lifted championship gold over his head recently, it was not all that rosy for Mares.
The Guadalajara, Jalisco-born fighter faced financial hardships while growing up as a young boy after migrating to Southern California with his mother and siblings. Whether it was looking for expired package food in dumpsters behind supermarkets as a boy or seeing friends stabbed on the street, Mares was at risk of becoming another statistic of the streets swallowing up another young man.
A trip back to Guadalajara as a teenager and boxing gave Mares another chance at life, one that seen him succeed. However, Mares thinks success is not measured in belts, money, or accolades.
Instead, it is doing what is right and to be a positive role model for the youth, something that he never had while growing up.
“Success really isn’t about belts. It’s just giving it your all. Even if I retired with losses, as long as I fought the best out there and gave it my all, then that’s all that matters. I just want to be a good example for the youth because the youth is everything.”
“I had a tough childhood. I grew up too fast and there were times I was living by myself. Life gives you obstacles and you just have to go through them. I went from nothing to something. I don’t want to stop because I want to be a good example for my kids (2 daughters).”
Adversity does make people stronger mentally. In the case of Mares, what he has had to live through and the experiences in and out of the ring as a professional has made him the person he is.
And that is why people respect him. He may have detractors after his close win over Vic Darchinyan and his first victory over Joseph Agbeko, where Mares landed a number of punches below the belt.
Through it all (and a one-sided victory over Agbeko in the rematch months later), Mares continues to live out his journey that has seen him become one of boxing’s best. He has the victories and (and whether he does not like to admit it) the belts to prove it.
Mares expects the best Gonzalez to show up on Saturday night. Do we expect anything less from Mares?
“Gonzalez will be at his best Saturday. Maybe (Guillermo) Rigondeaux or Leo (Santa Cruz) are better than me. How you train says a lot about how you prepare for a fight.”
That and never settling for anything less.
Francisco A. Salazar has written Boxingscene.com since September and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper and Knockout Nation. He could be reached by email at [email protected] or on twitter at FSalazarBoxing