“It is my best win of my career, probably of my life. It was the fight that is going to define me.”
So believes Abner Mares of his thrilling split decision win over Vic Darchinyan on December 11. He knew heading into the Showtime Bantamweight tournament that it would take two victories to not only win the whole thing, but also become Golden Boy Promotion’s first-ever home-grown major title claimant.
The latter serves as Mares’ motivation to succeed at the sport’s highest level, his own personal payback to a company who has stuck by his side through all of his injuries and setbacks.
Still, none of that happens without getting past Darchinyan, and for the first four rounds of their bantamweight war, it appeared that disaster was far more likely than good fortune.
Mares never took his eye off of the prize, nor did the thought of losing ever enter his mind.
“I was so focused, that when I got knocked down the first thing I thought of was (Juan Manuel) Marquez in the first fight with Pacquiao. When I got cut in the first round, that bothered me more. It bothered my eye a little bit. After the point, I just had to win rounds.”
The 2004 Mexican Olympian did just that, digging deep for the remainder of the fight. The second half was nearly all Mares, battling all the way back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, at least on two of the three official scorecards. It wasn’t ideal, but enough to remain unbeaten and move on to the tournament finals, where he faces the resurging Joseph Agbeko.
Key for Mares in pulling out the victory was a committed body attack, which he never abandoned even after losing a point. It has become far too customary for fighters to become gun shy once warned about low blows, much less losing a point.
Mares didn’t seem particularly concerned about what else the referee had to say. He knew what it was going to take to win the fight, and carried onward with his game plan.
“The key was body shots, body shots, body shots – hurt him downstairs and slow him down. Even though the ref kept telling me not to throw low, I was aiming for the body. Vic thought I would stop after I got the point deducted.”
If the strategy surprised the brash Armenian, then it could be considered in-ring payback for Mares admittedly not being fully prepared for the version of Darchinyan that he experienced early in the fight.
“What surprised me the most was that Darchinyan tried to box me. I thought he would pressure me a little bit more. If we boxed, then we could’ve made the judges see a different fight. Our strategy was to bully him and make him suffer.”
In the end, it was Mares who nearly suffered another scare once the scorecards were read. His last fight – against close friend Yonnhy Perez – ended in a draw, in a fight he firmly believes should have went his way.
When one of the scorecards was read in Darchinyan’s favor was the only point of the night in which Mares wasn’t completely confident that he won the fight.
“After the fight was done, I was in my corner praying to God to not let “it” happen again,” admitted Mares. “I was hoping that at least the other two judges saw it the way I did and I was happy.”
He now moves on to face Agbeko, who resurrected his career with a surprisingly dominant performance in avenging an earlier loss to Perez in his most recent fight, though one that came 14 months prior.
Agbeko used the motivation of the loss as well as the forced inactivity to turn in perhaps the best performance of his career in soundly outpointing Perez.
The turn of events led to two more fresh matches at bantamweight, as opposed to two more rematches. Mares was fine with whatever outcome took place, although there was a part of him who wanted to take care of unfinished business.
“(Yonnhy) knows it’s a business. I would like to fight him again,” Mares boldly states. “But now it’s me and Agbeko. He won and deserves to be in the finals. Though on a personal note – not to take anything away from Agbeko or make excuses for why Yonnhy lost – but he didn’t look the same in the fight that night. He seemed disoriented.
“From the fighters meeting when he was crying because he missed his family – he wanted to get this over with. He has a tough run and hasn’t been home (to Colombia) since the first Agbeko fight. It’s a lot of tough fights in a row without seeing his family.”
The same can be said of Mares who – after serving as a prospect whose only part of his game to be tested was his patience in healing from injuries – was pushed to the brink in his past two fights. Chances are that more of the same will come against Agbeko, though he’s fully confident that he will be prepared for whatever the tireless African has to offer.
“I’m expecting a tough fight (with Agbeko). He’s a tough fighter. He throws a lot of punches. It will be a great fight and I will have to be in top shape. But that’s where my team plays a big part – being part of the Espinoza Boxing Club, I know that all I have to worry about is the fighting because everyone else does their part to get me ready for moments like this.”
When that moment will come has not yet immediately been determined. While both are anxious to square off in the finals, a little break between wars isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We were asked after the fight, we both said that we would enjoy our wins and then the holidays. Once the New Year begins, we’ll concentrate on that fight, winning the tournament and my first world title.”
At which point a new moment can define a career that continues to take shape and live up to exceedingly high standards.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].