by Cliff Rold
Abner Mares, the new WBC 122 lb. titlist, was clearly the star of the show, defeating 1996 Olympian and former WBA Flyweight titlist Eric Morel by virtual shutout. WBA “Super” Bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno, just as he did on the last Mares undercard, furthered his U.S. presence and made himself the one to watch going forward. Moreno walked through a David De La Mora who took WBA other titlist Koki Kameda to the brink last year.
They may not be adamant about the collision course they’re on but logically they may be left with each other. Fans can feel free to wonder about a showdown, a classic battle of pressure versus slick between two 26-year olds in their absolute prime.
They can also anticipate what should be a hellacious run at all of 122 lbs.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Mares B+; Morel B+/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Mares B; Morel B/Post: B; B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Mares B; Morel B+/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Mares A; Morel B/Post: A; A
Mares-Morel was in many ways a tale of two fights. Mares won both, but in distinctly different fashion. The first fight took place in the first four rounds. Looking like he wanted his first knockout since March 2010, Mares let it all hang out. He rocked Morel, blasted away, and found the 36-year old game and willing to suffer in hopes of returning to championship glory.
Beginning in the fifth, Mares’s pace slowed somewhat and the fight became more competitive. Morel was landing more, and landing some hard stuff. Mares, showing the seasoning bouts with Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, and Joseph Agbeko imparted, managed to maintain his step ahead. He settled in for the long haul and patiently outfought Morel round after round.
Morel clearly doesn’t hit as hard up the scale as he did at 112, and was never a huge puncher in the first place, but Mares took some stiff stuff well. What Mares also did was show that power won’t be his game. Mares lands heavy stuff, but ending stuff just hasn’t happened for him at the upper echelon.
Surprisingly, it did happen for Moreno in the opener. Using a vicious body attack, Moreno controlled all but a short spatter of action in the third round against De La Mora. In that spatter, De La Mora went wild with a flurry and had Moreno a bit on his heels. Off balance, it looked for a moment as if the heavy-handed De La Mora may have scored a knockdown, Moreno falling through the ropes. Replays showed balance more the issue, a big right hand from De La Mora missing as Moreno fell.
Outside that moment, fans have now seen 20 rounds of Moreno in the U.S. Moreno hasn’t lost one of them. He hasn’t lost at all since a split decision in a four rounder in 2002 when he was seventeen. Moreno’s fight drew boos on Saturday, but rational examination of the booing in context says it may have had a lot more to do with a De La Mora who at one point in the fight fled and later quit. Moreno hasn’t given fans anything to boo stateside to date.
While some may be reluctant to embrace Moreno as one of the best fighters in the world, consider his now ten defenses at 118 lbs. and his overall opposition.
If Andre Ward, winner of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament, is to be considered by some a potential future pound-for-pound king with best wins over Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, how far off is Moreno with road wins over Wladimir Sidorenko, Mahyar Monshipour, and a Vic Darchinyan more accomplished than either Kessler or Froch? The answer is not far, if at all. He usually displays similar dominance and does it without a strategy rich in holding and butting.
To be fair, Mares’s run of foes puts him right in any conversation as well. Moreno has the edge in any comparison for now. He beat Darchinyan far easier, and more decisively, than Mares and bested a Sidorenko who defeated, if with debate, a Joseph Agbeko who Mares had to fight twice to beat outright once. Mares gets the edge in terms of his last five fights, but at the points where they can be directly compared, superiority firmly resides with Moreno.
It doesn’t predict who would win a fight. Triangle comparisons are no substitute for an opening bell.
Moreno is new to U.S. audiences but to those who have followed his development, he is proving to be what he looked like for most of the last few years. The clever southpaw is, plainly put, one of the most skilled, intelligent, complete fighters in boxing. Get used to him because he may be around for a long time.
The question now is does Morenop make his move on 122 lbs. The answer would have to be yes if he could secure a bout with Mares. They share a promoter in Golden Boy Promotions, a critical factor considering that most of the rest of the best or most notable they could face at 122 (Nonito Donaire, Jorge Arce, Guillermo Rigondeaux) are under the Top Rank banner.
It’s fun to speculate, but let’s be serious. Donaire is the straw Top Rank will stir their drinks with at 122. Until they’ve milked all the dollars they can out of their own stable, why would they bother with Mares or Moreno?
There could be one really solid option apiece for Mares and Moreno right now, besides each other.
Mares, with the Morel win, wins a WBC belt rightly belonging to Toshiaki Nishioka. Nishioka had the belt lifted from him by the WBC when he stated he would be laying off for longer than they liked and would miss a mandatory, this after making seven defenses between 2009-11. The last of those was a stellar win over Rafael Marquez last October.
Despite the excellence Nishioka had provided as their titlist, the WBC opted to make the belt available for a fight between two men who had not previously been competing at 122 and made Nishioka ‘Champion Emeritus.”
Here’s the only upside out of such nonsense. Like Vitali Klitschko a few years ago, the “Emeritus” label means Nishioka can come back and challenge for his old belt immediately. If he chooses to do so before a fight like Mares-Moreno could be made, who could complain? Mares-Nishioka is an outstanding match. Nishioka has also been mentioned as a potential foe for Donaire, but might he want to enter that with a belt on his waist?
If things headed that direction, Moreno might be well served to stick at Bantamweight for one more fight. With the exit of Mares, Moreno has no arguments against standing as the top dog in the division. The next most proven man is former IBF titlist Joseph Agbeko.
After last Saturday, Moreno and Agbeko are 1-2 in the BoxingScene division ratings and are highly likely to be rated the same at ESPN and Ring Magazine. Moreno could exit the division as its indisputable champion and fans could see one more excellent contest squeezed out of what has been a rare Golden Era at Bantamweight in the last few years.
Agbeko’s promoter, Don King, has been willing to work with Golden Boy at Bantamweight so it’s not as out of the realm as seeing the Top Rank-Golden Boy clashes that look so appealing right now at 122.
Make no mistake. Short of Moreno-Agbeko, the run is about over and even that is more of a postscript. There is a new wave emerging at 118 with Shinsuke Yamanaka and Leo Santa Cruz among the better emerging forces. The best of what came before them is heading up the scale.
122, for the years since the Vazquez-Marquez rivalry, was one of boxing’s more shallow classes. It is suddenly looking to be one of its hottest. The mix and match potential, some of it explored here, is both fascinating and mouth watering.
One great ride feeds another. Enjoy every mile.
Report Card Picks 2012: 17-3
Speaking of Yamanaka, the opportunity to review his win over Darchinyan on April 6th allows for an overdue post-fight report card. The grades come in at:
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka A-; Darchinyan B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka B; Darchinyan A/Post: B; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B+; Darchinyan B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka B+; Darchinyan A/Post: A; B+
Darchinyan gave far better account of himself in this one then he did in his previous outing against Moreno. The difference in foe had much to do with it. Yamanaka is a by the books, fundamentally sound southpaw and he stays within his game at all times.
It worked to his advantage after the fifth round. With the bout almost even, perhaps favoring Darchinyan after the fourth, Yamanaka landed a big left hand and opened a cut over the right eye of Darchinyan. It was the turning point of the fight.
Darchinyan has always been a guy whose emotions can get the best of him and this was a case of it. Early on, Darchinyan was boxing well, using his jab and firing short lefts to the body and a stiff, connecting overhand left to solid affect. After the cut, he started to get wild and undisciplined and it took him several rounds to settle down. He had a bit of a rally in the ninth but was staggered in the tenth. Despite a furious attempt to respond, Donaire just couldn’t quite catch up.
The fight appeared maybe a round closer than Burt Clements score of 117-111, but 9-3 or 8-4 was about right. 8-4, or 116-112, was the score here. It was competitive in many rounds. Yamanaka has an interesting future and would make a solid opponent for fellow Japanese titlist Koki Kameda, if the matching of Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi at 105 inspires more unification between Japanese fighters.
Darchinyan still has enough name and marketability in the U.S. to keep his dream of a Bantamweight belt alive, if only for a little while. If he could get a crack at Jorge Arce’s WBO belt, an easy road would be opened…but a rematch of what was already a one-sided beating in Darchinyan’s favor is unlikely. A crack at Kameda, if another trip to Japan were offered, would also be interesting.
At 36, the overachieving Darchinyan doesn’t have long left, but it might be a mistake to assume he doesn’t have at least one rabbit left in his hat.
Lightweight: Now with a belt at 140, plans to keep fighting there, and no fights at Lightweight since late 2010, Juan Manuel Marquez is removed as Lightweight champion. His reign was distinguished by stoppages of Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz, and Michael Katsidis.
Jr. Featherweight: Mares enters in the middle of the pack, pushing Rendall Munroe out. He can’t come in too high considering he fought at a catchweight against a bantamweight. That the fight was for a WBC belt doesn’t speak highly for the WBC. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a solid win.
With his ninth straight win overall, the last three all by stoppage at 122, former unified Jr. Bantamweight titlist Cristian Mijares was considered as a new entry as well but missed the cut. If rumors play out, he may have a huge chance to resurrect his standing against Nonito Donaire this summer.
Bantamweight: Mares is removed from the ratings while Morel, who will battle on at 118, remains after a noble losing effort. Hugo Ruiz enters the top ten.
The full ratings update is a click away.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]