By Robert Morales
Abner Mares is not one of those boxers who runs off at the mouth, showing disdain for anyone and everyone he comes across. He's a respectful sort, but he's been made to feel like something other than that since taking Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko's bantamweight world title in this past Saturday's Showtime tournament finale in Las Vegas.
Controversy was created when referee Russell Mora warned Mares several times for low blows, but never took a point from Mares. In the 11th round, Mares was credited with a knockdown instead of penalized for landing a low blow. The punch was headed low, Agbeko caught part of it with his glove and then it landed low. Agbeko fell to the canvas.
In other words, there are points involved here where, had Mora called things differently Agbeko could have gotten a decision or at the least a draw. Instead, he received a majority-decision loss, and now Mares is receiving a lot of unkind messages from hating fans.
Speaking Tuesday by telephone prior to the IBF ordering a rematch between he and Agbeko, Mares talked about the bittersweet and controversial night he won't soon forget.
"At the time of the fight I didn't know how big a deal it was," said Mares, 25, of Hawaiian Gardens (southeast of Los Angeles). "Now you're hearing people ... people are writing to me, telling me I'm a dirty fighter. It's really sad because it takes away from both of us. Agbeko is a tough fighter. It takes away from the fight; we both fought our hearts out."
Mares said being the brunt of ill will from haters is new to him.
"I'm not used to people talking bad about me," he said. "Now they're saying I'm a dirty fighter."
And much more.
"Right away they go with bad words and insulting words and that's just not right," he said.
To know Mares is to understand why he feels the way he does about being slammed. Unlike some fighters, who might say they don't give a you-know-what about what the people who basically pay their purses say, Mares is the opposite. He cares a great deal, and he admitted all the fuss has taken away from the joy he could have had in winning his first world championship.
"I'd be lying if I said no," Mares said. "Yes, it has. It's nothing better than to get people's approval. I love people when they tell me, 'You fought a good fight.' Now, I'm getting messages like this. But I'm happy, happy for my family, that I finally accomplished a world title."
Golden Boy Brass Disturbed About Reaction
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions - which promotes Mares - was not too thrilled about all the hoopla surrounding this unfortunate episode.
"I want to say that I don't know how many countless times Golden Boy or Golden Boy fighters have had the short end of the stick or the decision," Schaefer said Wednesday morning. "So this time around the decision went in favor of our fighter and everyone is up in arms. I really find that a bit ironic."
Schaefer used another adjective to describe what he thinks about the alleged phone call to Don King telling him to ask for another referee because Mora is a "Golden Boy referee."
"I find that a bit insulting from those people who are saying Russell Mora is a Golden Boy referee," Schaefer said. "I think that is very insulting. Russell Mora had a bad day at the office. I don't care what business you're in, you are going to have a bad day at the office once in a while. That happens.
"The IBF has ordered the rematch and that is fine with us and Agbeko will get the chance to correct the situation."
Schaefer then applauded the overall effort of Mares.
"I have to say Abner worked very hard and got the decision," Schaefer said. "When he fought against Yonnhy Perez at Staples Center (in May 2010), most media members felt Abner did enough to win the fight and it was ruled a draw. We didn't cry about it. We weren't happy about it. Abner didn't cry about it, but we moved on.
"Abner is a first-class guy. I'm happy he won the world title. Sometimes one wins the world title in clear-cut fashion, sometime's it's controversial. This one is controversial, I'm not denying that. That's why we're going to have another one and we have all the faith in Abner that he will show what he is."
Schaefer said he has already had talks with Showtime executive Ken Hershman about staging the rematch in December.
Don't Blame Him
Mares said he watched the replay and that to him most of the supposed low-blows "were right on the belt line. If not, one or two went to his legs."
Actually, more than one or two left hooks hit Agbeko's upper right leg. And the punch that put Agbeko down in the 11th round actually was partially blocked before it connected if not on, very near the groin area.
"After watching the replay and stuff, it hit his cup," Mares said. "He was able to block it with his glove. He made more of a dramatic scene, trying to get a point taken away from me. It was not my call, it was the ref's. He was right there when it happened. It's not my fault."
His co-manager, Frank Esinoza, echoed that sentiment.
"Fighters just fight," said Espinoza, who said he thought a rematch was warranted because of all the controversy. "It's the referee's job to make a call when he sees a flagrant foul. That is not our job. Our job is to go in there and have Abner in the fight."
Mares believes that even with all this, he won the fight.
"I did a good job of fighting inside and overall I thought I fought a great fight," he said.
"... Even if he had not counted the knockdown and taken a point away from me, I still thought I was winning the fight. He never won like a clear round. I feel happy with my performance and I'm more than happy to do it again if it's possible."
The View From Big Bear
Trainer Abel Sanchez, who these days owns the best camp in the mountains of Big Bear Lake (Calif.), spoke in disgusted tones when asked about this fiasco. Sanchez - who trains, among others, lightweight contender Urbano Antillon - agreed with Mares on the notion that in one way, the real blame lies somewhere other than with Mares.
"It's not Mares' fault," Sanchez said. "The judges are in there to make sure you follow the law. Mares did exactly what he needed to do until reprimanded. You get away with whatever you can get away with."
That said, Sanchez believes a point should have been deducted from Mares as early as either the fourth or fifth round. He was flabbergasted by the idea Mora never took that action.
"It was disgraceful," Sanchez said. "I thought Agbeko got robbed of a chance to keep his title. I think that the low blows started in the first round, but I've heard enough instruction in the last 35 years to know that the referees in the dressing room, they say, 'This is your first warning.'
"That is the first thing they say in the dressing room. Every referee in Calfornia or Nevada tells you that before a fight, especially in a title fight and to allow this man to continue to be hit low or even marginally low and not doing anything about it, I think it's disgraceful."
He Won't Change Way He Does Things
Don't expect Mares to make any drastic alterations in his style because of this mess.
Quite the contrary.
"I'm just a guy used to working the body," he said. "Nowadays you don't see really that many fighters using the body; usually, it's just head-hunting. ... I don't consider myself a dirty fighter. I always fight respectfully. I will definitely go back to the body again. I'll go back to it again and I'll continue to work on my skills and my body shots. That's what has given me the wins and stuff."
Antillon Not Ready To Hang Up Gloves
When Brandon Rios stopped the aforementioned Antillon in the third round on July 9 at Home Depot Center in Carson (Calif.), one had to wonder about Antillon's future. If you count his loss to Miguel Acosta in a bout for an interim lightweight title, Antillon is now 0-3 in championship fights. Often times, a fighter in this situation will call it quits if he thinks staying around for yet another title shot will not bear fruit. But Sanchez said the 28-year-old Antillon (28-3, 20 KOs) wants to keep fighting.
And he will as soon as he passes the MRI and CT-scan Sanchez said were ordered by the California State Athletic Commission because "he got hit with some great shots and he went down very hard."
"He seems to be anxious to take those tests the doctor ordered," Sanchez said. "Once that gets done, we are going to sit down and discuss it. He very much wants to continue his career. (Promoter) Bob Arum told him he wants to bring him back as soon as possible."
Sanchez stressed the tests are "precautionary measures just to make sure nothing's wrong."
That said, Sanchez believes Antillon can still realize his dream of becoming world champion.
"I think so, and I'll tell you why," he said. "I said berore the Rios fight that whoever landed the first telling blow was going to win the fight because both of them are good finishers. I think Rios has a little more pop than Urbano. Unfortunately, we got caught with the first telling blow and Rios was able to finish us off. I wonder if I would have got him back to the corner if I would have been able to do anything where I could have gotten him going."
In order words, Sanchez said, he doesn't believe Antillon has lost his legs.
"No, not from what I saw in the gym," he said.
De La Hoya Hanging With Family
Schaefer said Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya got out of a rehabilitation clinic in California where he was being treated for substance abuse about a month ago.
"He has spent the last month or so with his family," Schaefer said. "Based on what he is telling me, he is doing great."
Schaefer was asked if De La Hoya is coming back to work in the near future.
"I don't really know when, but yes he will," Schaefer said. "I think it is going to be soon."
De La Hoya entered rehab in late May.