By Jake Donovan
If Saturday’s performance wasn’t enough to declare Abner Mares already among the best super bantamweights in the world, then he certainly sent a hell of a warning shot.
Mares had no problem adapting to life after bantamweight, dominating Eric Morel in their vacant title fight Saturday evening at the Don Haskins Convention Center in El Paso, Texas.
Scores were 119-109 (twice) and 120-107 in favor of Mares in their Showtime-televised main event.
Whatever game plan Morel had in mind went completely out the window the moment he elected to remain a stationary target. That occurred midway through the first round. The former flyweight titlist was faring well to that point, but stopped moving and was quickly forced into a brawl.
Mares – fighting at his heaviest weight in nearly six years – appeared stronger than had been the case in his past several fights. Crisp left hooks to the body had Morel off balance and in trouble in each of the first two rounds as he built an early lead.
Morel’s only chance was slowing down the fight to a crawl. The veteran reached deep into his bag of tricks, switching back and forth from conventional to southpaw stance. The tactic produced mixed results, though at the very least minimized punishment.
When brawling didn’t get the job done, Mares reminded everyone that he can box just as well. The jab was there whenever Mares felt the need to step back and reset his attack. Morel was able to get his own offense going, but never to the point of getting his opponent’s attention.
Sensing the fight was rapidly getting away from him, Morel picked up the pace as the second half began. The outcome was the same – Mares remaining in control, finishing every exchange even when he wasn’t getting his punches off first.
The wheels began to fall off the wagon for Morel as the fight wore on. Mares was able to resume his body attack in the later rounds. The closest Morel enjoyed to a bright spot down the stretch actually came on the wrong side of the law, landing a right hand after the bell to end the 10th round.
A strong 11th round had Mares thinking knockout heading down the stretch, but was forced to hear the final bell. The result wasn’t for a lack of trying, just indicative of his opponent’s determination.
“Eric is a tough fighter, but I felt strong,” Mares stated afterward. “I kept saying to my corner, ‘One of these overhand rights, he’s going down.’ He took my power and went out like a champ.”
Morel certainly fought the 12th and final round like a champ, or an inspired ex-champ. The Puerto Rican came flying off his stool with the intention of dramatically turning the tide, forcing a fast pace and providing the crowd with a thrilling conclusion.
Mares adapted well and resumed control, but genuinely pleased that he was forced to fight his way to victory down the stretch.
“I always say that I’d rather give fans 12 great rounds than a 1st or 2nd round knockout.”
The proof is in the resume, as Mares has now seen his past five fights go the 12-round distance. The run began with his draw over Yonnhy Perez, which served as a prelude to the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament. Mares scored decision wins over Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko (twice) to win the tournament championship as well as a bantamweight title.
After the scores were read here, Mares acquired his second divisional belt. The virtual shutout win resulted in picking up a vacant 122 lb. title, despite the fight taking place at a catchweight of 120 lb.
Morel falls to 46-3 (23KO) with the loss. The 36-year old carried an 11-fight win streak into the fight, but once again came up way short at the championship level. All three of Morel’s losses have come in title fights, dropping past decisions to Lorenzo Parra and Martin Castillo.
There’s no telling what’s in store for Morel, who served on the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing squad and enjoyed a three-year flyweight title reign that ended nearly a decade ago. Despite his advanced age, Morel hasn’t taken much punishment in his career, though has also shown an inability to get over the hump at the top level.
To his credit, Morel offered no excuses in losing a decision to a fighter 10 years his junior.
“The time really doesn’t matter. He probably would’ve done the same thing. He’s a great fighter. He’s one of the best I’ve ever fought - nothing to be ashamed of.”
“He was better, I said it before – he has his goals, I have mine. I don’t think (it’s the end of my career). I might stick around. I might drop down to 118. Mares is just a great fighter. A lot of fighters are going to have a lot of problems with him.”
The list of fighters Mares has to choose from is a lengthy one as the 122 lb. division is loaded with star talent. Nonito Donaire recently moved up, outpointing Wilfredo Vazquez Jr for a vacant belt. Hovering around the division is Jorge Arce, deep in the twilight but as dangerous as ever.
Another option is Anselmo Moreno, who dominated David de la Mora in the televised co-feature.
Mares is wide open to whomever wants to step into the ring with him. A breakthrough 2011 campaign now coupled with his strong debut in 2012 leaves the two-division titlist feeling above calling out any other fighter.
“Let’s go one-by-one,” Mares stated afterward when read a list a potential future opponents. “I’m ready to give them a great fight. I’m not afraid to lose. Win, lose - let’s make a great fight.”
Whatever comes up next, Mares is confident it will come above the bantamweight limit.
“I feel a lot stronger and complete. Everything is there. I don’t struggle as much to make weight.”
He also didn’t struggle to make a hell of a first impression in his newest home.
MORENO STOPS DE LA MORA, EYES MARES SHOWDOWN
In the televised co-feature, Anselmo Moreno had his way in a 9th round stoppage of David de la Mora.
Moreno scored two knockdowns in the bout, flooring de la Mora in the opening round and then putting the fringe contender down and nearly out in the sixth.
The bout was not without its anxious moments for the defending champion, who was nearly knocked down in the third. An ensuing shove overruled the punch that preceded it, as Moreno sat along the bottom rope.
It was otherwise smooth sailing for Moreno. After watching their fighter being dominated for eight rounds, de la Mora’s handlers disallowed their fighter to come out for the ninth.
Moreno racks up the 10th defense of his alphabet bantamweight belt as he improves to 33-1-1 (12KO). de la Mora falls to 24-2 (17KO), having now lost twice in his last three bouts.
De la Mora entered the fight on the heels of a 7th round stoppage of Eddy Julio, whose own Saturday fight ended in disaster as he was flattened in four rounds by Cristian Mijares. Prior to beating Julio, de la Mora was competitive in defeat against another bantamweight titlist in Koki Kameda last August.
The bout marked his second straight stateside appearance, both of which aired live on Showtime and in support to main events featuring Mares.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]