By Lem Satterfield
Abner Mares his heard the skeptics regarding his rise from 126 to 130 pounds, his goal of dethroning southpaw WBA “regular” champion Gervonta Davis, and quest for his fourth crown in as many divisions reportedly on February 9 at a venue to be determined in Southern California near Mares’ native Los Angeles.
So Mares told BoxingScene.com he's decided the best way to quiet his critics is to make it known that he has a full perspective on, is fully aware of, and unequivocally knows exactly what he’s doing.
“I’ve seen a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, they’re throwing Abner to the wolves,’ and ‘They chose the wrong fight for Abner.’ But I want to put this out there and make it clear that I chose this fight. I mean, I actually said, ‘I wanna move up to 130, and I wanna fight Gervonta Davis,’” said Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), who turned 33 on November 28.
“This is just a personal feeling that I have because I’m that veteran who believes he can deal with a guy as fast, skillful and talented as Gervonta is. I’m not saying that it’s going to be an easy fight, because it’s not. But I just wanted to prove myself and give myself a test. I wanna make it known that nobody gave me this fight, and I’m very comfortable with this decision."
A Baltimore native who turned 24 on November 7, Davis (20-0,19 KOs) is coming off a title-regaining two-knockdown third-round TKO of fellow southpaw Jesus Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs), of Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose 130-pound debut ended a 16-month ring absence since falling in December 2016 by split-decision to Mares and being dethroned as WBA 126-pound champion.
A two-time champion, Davis will end a 10-month ring absence and is confident of earning his 12th straight stoppage victory and successful second defense against Mares.
In his last fight in June, Mares lost a unanimous decision to three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) in rematch of Santa Cruz’s majority decision win in August 2015, with each of those bouts taking place in the fighters’ native Los Angeles.
But Mares said he chose Davis over considerations of facing left-handed WBC 126-pound titleholder Gary Russell (29-1, 17 KOs) and two-division and WBO interim champion Carl Frampton (26-1, 15 KOs).
Frampton could earn his fourth straight victory, third win of the year and second consecutive stoppage against unbeaten IBF 126-pound titleholder Josh Warrington ((27-0, 6 KOs) on December 22 at the Manchester Arena in Machester, England, a feat “The Jackal” believes would make him the division’s No. 1 fighter.
“There were two other fights that were maybe not as risky as Gervonta, and we’re talking about Gary Russell or Carl Frampton. But I said, ‘No, I wanna move up to 130 and I wanna fight ‘Tank’ Davis,’” said Mares.
“My trainer is Robert Garcia, and we’ve definitely done our homework and we know what type of fight we have in front of us. We’re very confident, and that’s just the way that it is.”
Mares is 5-for-5 (two knockouts) against southpaw opponents since 2008, all being among the most notable triumphs of his career. The first left-hander Mares defeated was Diosdado Gabi, who retired with a record of 30-4-1 and 21 knockouts following his second-round TKO loss in March 2008.
Mares scored an 11th round knockdown against Cuellar, who had won an interim crown by unanimous decision over Claudio Marrero in August 2013, and whose five defenses included three straight knockouts and stoppages of left-handed former world champions Juan Manuel Lopez and Vic Darchinyan.
Darchinyan represented Mares’ second southpaw victory in a 118-pound bout in December 2010. Four fights and two world titles later, the Mexico-born, Southern California-raised Mares defended his 122-pound crown with a unanimous decision over lefty Anselmo Moreno in November 2012.
In March 2013, Mares moved up another weight class and dethroned 126-pound titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon via ninth-round TKO, dropping the champion twice. In defeating Ponce De Leon, Mares improved to 26-0-1 and became a three-division world champion.
But Mares was dropped twice and knocked out in the first round of his next fight in August 2013 by Jhonny Gonzalez, who had lost his previous bout in September 2012 to Ponce De Leon by ninth-round technical decision.
Following his first defeat, Mares won three consecutive victories from July 2014 to March 2015, setting up his majority decision loss to Santa Cruz and then the win over Cuellar.
"Gervonta fought Cuellar two years after me and took care of business, but I find that southpaws are not as hard as right-handers, and I'm very comfortable agaisnt them," said Mares. "I have no difficulties against lefties and I'm looking forward to being 6-0 against southpaws."
In victory over Cuellar, Davis returned to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where a then-22-year-old became the youngest reigning champion in January 2017 with a seventh-round knockout that dethroned switch-hitting IBF titleholder Jose Pedraza.
Pedraza has since won three consecutive 135-pound bouts capped by a unanimous decision that dethroned WBO champ Ray Beltran in August, and will battle left-handed three-division titleholder and WBA lightweight counterpart Vasyl Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) on December 8 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
For his initial IBF title defense for his initial defense in May 2017, Davis traveled to London, where he dropped and stopped previously undefeated southpaw Liam Walsh (21-1, 14 KOs) in the third round in front of Walsh’s hometown fans.
But Davis lost his crown on the scales before his second defense in August, an eighth-round knockout victory over Francisco Fonseca (22-1-1, 16 KOs) on the Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard. Fonseca has rebounded with three consecutive knockouts and challenges IBF 130-pound champion Tevin Farmer on December 15.
For Cuellar, Davis switched trainers to Kevin Cunningham from career-long corner man Calvin Ford, who served as an assistant. Cunningham was prophetic when he vowed that Davis would “obliterate” Cuellar, coming full circle by becoming a repeat 130-pound champion where he had earned his first crown.
“A lot of people don’t realize that although he may be bigger, physically, walking around at maybe 170 or whatever, that as far as height, he’s only a 5-foot-5-inch fighter like myself,” said Mares, who is actually listed as being an inch shorter (5-foot-4 ½-to 5-foot-5 ½) than Davis with a 66-inch reach compared to “Tank’s” of 67 ½.
“Gervonta’s not a big guy, he’s just short and stocky. So, there’s no significant height or reach advantage. People think that I’m fighting a monster, but really, I just look at him as a regular fighter. I’m am looking at the fact that he’s a heavy puncher, but come fight-night, we’ll have something in mind for him.”