By Jake Donovan
Even with winning the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament and then cementing his claim with a repeat win over Joseph Agbeko last December, Abner Mares still heard the whispers – the task isn’t complete until you’ve beaten Nonito Donaire.
Mares (23-0-1, 13KO) actually agrees – to a point.
There’s no questioning his accomplishments in the recent past, including four straight tough fights against the likes of Agbeko (twice), Vic Darchinyan and Yonnhy Perez. Even more impressive is remaining unbeaten after a run like that.
With that in mind, Mares’ defense to any criticism is that he can only fight whomever is willing to get in the ring with him. When plans were made for the bantamweight tournament, Donaire and Fernando Montiel – through his promoter, Top Rank Inc. – opted to go another route, instead facing each other.
Mares wound up the last man standing, winning the tournament and also becoming the first fighter Golden Boy Promotions brought along from pro debut to a world championship, coming seven years after his run on Mexico’s 2004 Olympic Boxing squad.
The plan now is to add to the list, beginning with a vacant super bantamweight title fight with Eric Morel on April 21 in El Paso. Showtime will televise the 12-round main event, which takes place at a catchweight of 120 lb.
From there, who knows? A dance with Donaire is pretty high on Mares’ bucket list. In the meantime, there are plenty of other fights in a division suddenly booming with star power.
“The decision to move up in weight was made when the year began,” Mares says of the thought process behind vacating his bantamweight title. “We were getting pressure from the IBF to face the mandatory (Vusi Malinga), but none of the networks were interested in that fight. So, we decided to move up to 122 lb. and now get the chance to win our second world title.”
The opportunity comes against Morel (46-2, 23KO), a former flyweight titlist who served on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Boxing team. The accomplishments are barely memories these days for Morel, who has endured his shares of ups and downs on both sides of the ropes. The 36-year old rides an 11-fight win streak since returning to the ring in 2008 following a two-year prison stint.
All of that is of little to no concern to Mares, who views Morel as just the next guy standing in his way.
“I didn’t know much about him until he signed with Golden Boy a little while ago,” Mares admits. “I knew once he signed with Golden Boy and was fighting on my undercards that they planned to match us together eventually.
“Now it’s happening. He hasn’t lost in a while and knows what it’s like to be champion. I’m not taking this fight lightly at all. I want to prove something by beating him and plan to use this opportunity to make a statement that I’m ready for the best at 122.”
On that current list along with Donaire is Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka, viewed by many as the division’s leader but whom was forced to vacate after personal problems beyond the ropes prevent him from fulfilling his championship obligations. The long-reigning titlist is promised a shot at the winner, though Mares and his team are less concerned about what lies ahead than what presently awaits.
“Abner is a professional, he knows to take it one fight at a time,” states Frank Espinoza, whose Espinoza Boxing Club in southern California has done a masterful job in guiding the 26-year old to the top. “As far as Eric Morel, he’s a great former champion. We expect him to be moving on his feet. We feel Abner has the ability to stop him.
“After this fight, we’ll sit down and see what’s next. There are a lot of big fights at 122 we’d like to challenge. There’s Jorge Arce, a big fight for Mexico. There’s Nonito Doniare - a lot of big fights. We’ll sit down and discuss with Golden Boy what’s next after April 21 is over.”
What can be guaranteed is that while Mares doesn’t quite know how high he’ll eventually go in weight, there is next to no chance of ever again fighting in the division that first made him famous.
“I don’t think there is any chance of moving back down to 118. All of the top names are moving up,” Mares points out. “I’ll continue to move up. I feel really satisfied and accomplished a lot at 118. I did it all. I became world champion and did it by beating the best. I feel great to move up and fight for another world title.
“Hopefully we get a chance to fight Donaire down the road. He’s the big name fighter and I can’t wait to fight him. It’s the biggest fight. I have to take care of business first and let the world know that I’m ready. Once I’m a super bantamweight champion, there is no way to go around me.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]