by Cliff Rold
The end came too quick.
That much was pretty clear, in real speed and in slow motion replay. It might have been almost over, but with Daniel Ponce De Leon still firing back on Saturday night, it wasn’t over yet. Given what had happened up to that point, it’s at least understandable how referee Jay Nady could jump the gun.
Ponce De Leon had been down in the fight twice, hard.
One of the best fighters in the world was pouring it on.
Those conditions have led to many a stoppage, quick and otherwise, over the years.
Watching as Mares (26-0-1, 14 KO) picked up a belt in his third weight class, it was undeniable that he is just that: one of the best in the world. Only 27, the former Mexican Olympian based out of Southern California is in full prime stride. He’s taking the fights to make that mean something.
Every division in boxing needs someone like Abner Mares. Only a few have them.
He isn’t always pretty about it. There can be a low blow or errant elbow thrown with wicked effect. He’s not the first or last guilty of such sins. Harry Greb winks from that great brothel in the sky.
What really matters though can be found on his rapidly growing ledger. Since stepping to the title level in May 2010, he’s gone 6-0-1, captured belts at 118, 122, and 126 lbs., and taken only one fight that appeared to be a gimme’ going in.
The gimme’ was a former champion on a winning streak in Eric Morel. That’s not much of a gimme.’
Ponce De Leon wasn’t the best foe in the run, even if he was the biggest. He was though a fairly proven tough guy. Outside of being blitzed in a single frame by Juan Manuel Lopez many years ago, he’d managed to go rounds with a number of world-class foes. He beat some, lost to others, winning and shedding some straps along the way. He was always durable.
Mares blasted him to the floor with wicked shots both times he pulled off the feat. It was eye opening and a sign of the evolution of a talent. In his first title fight, he had to adapt and come back strong late to salvage a draw with Yonnhy Perez. Against the more experienced Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko, the first time, he got a little dirty but he found ways to win.
Since the Agbeko rematch, he’s been on fire. His win over Anselmo Moreno last year showed he could handle a truly skilled tactician. He took the rock fisted De Leon’s blows to answer any lingering questions about his chin.
As he begins to come into clearer focus, he’s hard not to appreciate. Fight fans and fight press demand top fighters who fight the best time after time, not that unreasonable a request when fighters go to scratch only two-three times a year at the top of the ladder. Mares is the perfect storm to see that desire realized even if it feels like he is not fully embraced yet.
He is well promoted, fights in divisions deep in talent, and isn’t hiding behind his superior star power (relative to the rest of the Featherweight division; he’s not quite a superstar draw yet in general). Boxing only has a few fighters like him right now.
Carl Froch, the Super Middleweight titlist, will face Mikkel Kessler for the second time later this month. It is the ninth fight in ten starts that Froch has taken where he could reasonably lose. Only Andre Ward, clearly, and Kessler, closely, could add blemishes to his mark. His lone soft touch, Yusaf Mack, came after eight fights in a row that began before the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament and continued after its conclusion.
Vic Darchinyan, who returns to the ring this weekend in a stay busy fight, has faced a who’s who of top talent from Flyweight to Bantamweight over the last decade. It hasn’t always been in consecutive fashion like Mares and Froch, but it’s been close.
Miguel Cotto, a champion from Jr. Welterweight to Jr. Middleweight, has never shied away from murderer’s row. He made millions with Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather. He took on Antonio Margarito and Austin Trout when few others in his position would have. Sure, he lost, but he lost fighting real guys. He picked up plenty of wins doing the same thing.
HBO’s Jim Lampley has something called a “Gatti list.” Lots of people like to do “pound-for-pound” lists. If someone did a “pro-for-pro” list, these are the types of men who could occupy it. They are the sort of fighters who give the game its character, who remind that this is both theatre and genuine sport.
And unlike the other men with whom he shares a kinship of ring spirit, Mares so far has kept winning. Having bested most of the best of the Golden Boy Promotions stable in his weight classes, he’s expressed further willingness to face Top Rank’s top dogs in former titlist Nonito Donaire and World 122 lb. champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Lots of fighters say things like that. Mares is believable. It is, in competitive terms, a travesty that all boxing fans aren’t salivating right now about the prospect of a Mares-Rigondeuax or Mares versus Featherweight titlist Mikey Garcia. Those men are among the mountains he has yet to climb and, due to promotional squabbles, may be out of reach.
To his credit, he doesn’t sit quietly. He’s vocal about wanting to fight them all and proving a man of his word in the fights he takes. For Abner Mares, his style is his substance.
It’s time he starts to be fully celebrated for it.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at roldboxing[email protected]