by David P. Greisman
This much is a fact: We cannot have it both ways.
We expect fighters to challenge themselves at the highest level against top-rated opponents. And then we write them off once they lose. We treat that sole defeat as if it renders all that came before it as meaningless, and anything that is still to come as pointless.
Fighters lose. Sometimes that loss symbolizes overall shortcomings. And sometimes that loss is just what happened against one person on one night.
These are also facts: Abner Mares lost to Jhonny Gonzalez in a featherweight bout this past Saturday. It was a stunning result. Gonzalez was a former titleholder with eight losses on his record. Mares was undefeated and had captured belts in three divisions. Yet within less than three minutes, Mares was sitting on the canvas for the second time while Gonzalez stood tall, celebrating his victory.
That loss didn’t make Mares’ past run meaningless. Nor will his return be pointless.
That’s because in recent years Mares has faced one of the most badass stretches of opponents; super middleweight Carl Froch has the other. Mares didn’t play it safe, not in his matchmaking, nor in his in-ring approach. And unless you’re a once-in-a-generation fighter, that combination means you will lose eventually.
Some fighters fall short and suffer an existential crisis. Nathan Cleverly spoke of possibly retiring in the raw emotion that followed the one-sided drubbing he suffered in a knockout loss to light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev earlier this month.
Others recognize that they have reached their limit, that they have experienced the Peter Principle and are only capable of competing at a certain level.
Mares’ loss was not due to a lack of ability or a questionable chin. He fought a puncher, got caught, got hurt and got stopped.
“I’m just going to go back to the drawing board. I’ll fight anybody. I’m not here to take an easy fight just because I got knocked out,” he was quoted as saying after Saturday’s loss. “I’m here to fight. This is a learning experience, and I’m going to learn from it.”
Mares represented Mexico in the 2004 Olympics, losing a decision in the first round of the bantamweight tournament. He signed with the then-fledgling Golden Boy Promotions and has fought under that banner for nearly nine years now. He was spotlighted on an HBO undercard in 2007, fought underneath the pay-per-view rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008, and then began to stand out on his own in May 2010, when he fought 118-pound titleholder Yonnhy Perez to an entertaining draw on Showtime and then entered that network’s four-man bantamweight tournament.
The Perez fight was just the beginning of the murderer’s row for Mares. His tournament opener came in December 2010 against Vic Darchinyan, who he topped by split decision. Then he met Joseph Agbeko in the finale in August 2011, winning a majority decision that was seen as controversial, especially due to the low blows that Mares was seen throwing often and regarded as having gotten away with.
Mares and Agbeko had a rematch in December 2011; Mares won by a much wider decision, then took on comparatively softer opposition in faded former flyweight titleholder Eric Morel in April 2012. Mares won a near-shutout, then followed that up with a clear decision win over highly regarded boxer Anselmo Moreno in November 2012. Earlier this year, Mares stopped Daniel Ponce De Leon on the undercard to the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero pay-per-view.
It was quite the run, even without considering the title belts he picked up along the way in the 118-, 122- and 126-pound divisions. In seven fights against these six current and former titleholders, he had gone 6-0-1.
He would meet one badass too many.
Jhonny Gonzalez is almost 32 years old, a veteran with 14 years as a pro and more than 60 fights under his belt. He had held a world title at 118 pounds between 2005 and 2007, and has fought a valiant war against Israel Vazquez in an unsuccessful bid for a 122-pound title in 2006. He came up short in that division again in 2009, suffering a third-round technical knockout against Toshiaki Nishioka. He was able to pick up a belt again in 2011 by stopping Hozumi Hasegawa. He then defended the belt successfully three more times before losing a technical decision to Ponce De Leon last September in a bout stopped due to a cut caused by a clash of heads.
He bounced back in 2013 with two wins, though one of them, a decision over Eusebio Osejo, involved Gonzalez being bounced off the canvas early on. He came into the Mares fight with a record of 55 wins and 7 losses, and with 47 of those victories coming by way of knockout. Yet those four most recent losses had come when he stepped up his level of opposition: he’d been stopped by Vazquez, knocked out on a body shot by Gerry Penalosa, got sent home early by Nishioka and was short on the scorecards against Ponce De Leon.
Sometimes losses symbolize overall shortcomings. And sometimes losses are just what happened against that person on that night.
Mares was another step up. For Gonzalez, his past defeats didn’t render his experience meaningless, nor did it make this latest challenge pointless. Though some might have seen Gonzalez as battle-worn, the fighter in him sought to show that he was better described as battle-tested.
Gonzalez had stood in against top opposition, even if he had lost more of those fights than he’d won. He would not be intimidated by his opponent, nor by the moment. He would try to take whatever powerful punches came his way and would seek to test how much Mares could withstand.
It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to learn the answer.
With about 40 seconds remaining in the first round, Gonzalez ducked down as if to throw a left hook to the body but instead directed it upward, catching Mares flush in the jaw and knocking him backward to the mat. Mares tried to sit up, failing at first and then rising as the referee reached the count of six.
Gonzalez rushed in with more left hooks and hard right crosses. Mares didn’t hold, and he wouldn’t hold on much longer. He was down again with about 12 seconds left. The referee felt he was too hurt to continue, ending the fight less than three minutes after it had begun.
Perhaps Gonzalez had seen some flaw in Mares years ago, back when they were sparring partners, when Gonzalez was vying for a title and Mares was a prospect. Gonzalez’s trainer, Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, had previously worked in Mares’ corner. Perhaps he had imparted some wisdom to Gonzalez. Perhaps fighter or trainer had noticed something while studying tapes of Mares.
Or maybe it was none of the above, but rather a case of a veteran fighter who believed in his power and knew how to create openings.
It was an upset win for Gonzalez. It was a setback loss for Mares. It was not necessarily a deathblow, though.
It’s easy to believe that the best fighters are those who never lose. That might be the case for a few, while others are able to remain undefeated as a result of the matches that are made — and are not made. The rest of the best must get past those defeats, studying where they went wrong and working to ensure those mistakes aren’t made again.
Boxers are conditioned to withstand far more pain than non-fighters would ever care to experience. Success isn’t just forged in training camps and sparring matches, however, but in the ring during paid prizefights as well.
Such a trial by fire comes in battles and against bad-asses.
Mares was neither unscathed nor undefeated when he left the arena on Saturday — but while he would have preferred for the Gonzalez fight to go differently, this loss could be to his gain.
The 10 Count
1. This being boxing, this past Saturday didn’t end without some debate, as some wondered about the way in which referee Jack Reiss waved off the bout between Abner Mares and Jhonny Gonzalez.
The stoppage came after the second knockdown of the first round, with Mares going down with about 12 seconds remaining. Reiss reached the count of three and then stopped, placing his left hand on Mares’ shoulder as Mares began to rise.
“You’re done, man,” Reiss sounded like he said to Mares, who looked up toward him with apparent confusion. “Your eyes are bad.”
Here’s what a handful of folks had to say about that call:
“Finish counting, look into his eyes, ask him to step toward you, and assess,” tweeted Eric Raskin of Grantland, adding later: “No harm in counting to 10 and assessing then. Maybe Mares was done, but this way we’ll never know for sure.”
“Never liked when a fighter is waved off at 2-3 seconds unless they’re unconscious. To me, Mares should have got the benefit,” tweeted Tommy Allan of Boxing Asylum. “Don’t wave it off at three. Let them get to their feet and take a look at them at nine. A few seconds can make all the difference when you’re in the shape these athletes are.”
“That was a terrible stoppage. It was almost the end of the round, and he should have at least given him until eight,” tweeted Matthew Paras of MaxBoxing.com, adding later: “I just think he should have at least given him time to stand up. If he’s on really shaky legs or has glassy eyes, then okay. He [Mares] was just staring into the ground at the count of two.”
“Let him try and get to his feet,” tweeted Jimmy Tobin of boxing blog The Cruelest Sport. “I imagine the fight ends regardless. He was in trouble. But still…”
“I prefer to err on the side of caution,” tweeted Andrew Fruman, also of The Cruelest Sport. “But no harm in the ref waiting a few seconds to see if Mares truly didn’t have his legs.”
“Let Mares get up and walk to you and THEN assess the situation,” wrote Twitter user @JamesBaggJr. “Why rush?”
“Abner [was] trying to get up, let him fall over trying,” wrote Twitter user @Fight_Ghost. “Don’t hold him down.”
2. Others felt differently:
Dad, watching alongside me, said he felt Mares’ eyes showed that the bout needed to be stopped. “I didn’t see anything there,” Dad said.
“He was in la-la land,” tweeted Jeremy Foley of the Pound4Pound Ireland blog.
“There was nothing terrible about that. Just a judgment call,” tweeted Cliff Rold, my longtime colleague here at BoxingScene.com. He added later: “Not his [Reiss’s] job to know how much time there is. Dude was jacked up. Could have waited; not worth arguing that he didn’t … Seen stuff like this go both ways. This one didn’t bug me. He was lit bad.”
“He was out. Perfect stoppage. Reiss should be commended. He saw something. That’s what Reiss is there for. Did his job,” tweeted boxing writer Matthew Aguilar adding later: “The camera showed him minutes later still out of it. And little protest from him. Telltale sign.”
[Mares, in a post-fight interview, said this: “I was alright. But the ref did his job. You know, it’s his job, and he felt that I wasn’t ready. So, respect that.]
3. My take:
I don’t see any harm in allowing a fighter who is still in control of his faculties and not seriously injured to try to rise from a knockdown. There was no need to rush. This wasn’t Sergei Liakhovich having his arms and legs moving involuntarily after being knocked down by Deontay Wilder.
Mares did indeed look shaken immediately after the knockdown, and Reiss was indeed in good position to observe the fighter while issuing the count.
I completely understand those who feel that Mares looked done and out of it. I’m with those, however, who believe Reiss should have waited the additional seconds for Mares to try to rise, and then to evaluate him.
I also believe the extra time might not have made too much of a difference in the grand scheme. Gonzalez had rocked Mares with the first knockdown and then rattled him further with the second.
Yet the round was about to end. Mares would have had an extra minute to recover.
Those extra six seconds, followed by those extra 60 seconds, might have made a world of difference. Or they might not have. Mares might not have made it to his feet. He might have still looked unfit to continue. Gonzalez might have finished him off in the second round.
“To some it may seem like we’re trying to stir up controversy where there is none,” tweeted Eric Raskin. “But count to 10 and there truly will be none.”
We’ve seen a referee allow Juan Manuel Marquez to get up after three knockdowns, and Marquez came back to battle Manny Pacquiao to a draw. We’ve seen a referee allow Kelly Pavlik to continue after being left reeling by Jermain Taylor, and we then watched Pavlik come back to score the technical knockout.
We also wouldn’t have complained had those bouts been stopped beforehand, had Pacquiao been awarded the first-round technical knockout and had Taylor been awarded the second-round stoppage.
The criticism of Reiss’s ruling this past Saturday doesn’t seem to come from an angle that Gonzalez is undeserving of victory and that Mares absolutely would have come back. The thought, rather, is that Reiss had those additional six seconds to make a decision — and Mares deserved those additional six seconds to persuade him.
4. Santa Cruz vs. Terrazas was fun for the three rounds it lasted. It’s just a shame (for us) that Terrazas’ right eye was already closed before the end of the second round thanks to Santa Cruz’s shots, and that we didn’t get to see even more action.
The injury left Terrazas more vulnerable. Santa Cruz is already a handful to face if you’ve got two good eyes, never mind if you’re left with just one. Terrazas never saw the left hook to the temple that led to the first knockdown of the fight in the third and final round. Santa Cruz soon finished him up, scoring a second knockdown with a right hand behind the ear. Both were well-placed power-punches that can play heck with a fighter’s equilibrium and force his legs to betray him.
5. There’s just something about the 122-pound division that keeps giving us entertaining action.
We had a tease of it with Terrazas vs. Santa Cruz.
We had a taste of it it the week before with Jhonatan Romero vs. Kiko Martinez.
We’ve had full on feasts of it with Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez I through III, with Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales I, and with the brawl between Mahyar Monshipour and Somsak Sithchatchawal.
6. Last week brought the debut of a new boxing show, “Golden Boy Live!” on a debuting cable network, Fox Sports 1. (The network used to be Speed, a channel focused on racing.)
In the United States, Saturday is the big night for boxing, followed by Fridays. In the not-too-distant past there used to be boxing broadcasts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
This new show is on Mondays. The network will air 24 episodes over the following year, according to a news release.
It’s nice to get away from the packed Fridays and Saturdays that often force hardcore boxing fans to turn to their DVRs and to rely on re-airings and YouTube in order to keep from missing anything. But Mondays are a packed night for programming targeted at a similar demographic as boxing.
“Monday Night Football” averaged 12.8 million last season during its 16 regular season shows. Monday Night Raw averages between 3.5 and 4 million viewers between 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern Time and it airs every week.
Then again, television networks can raise money without having ratings hits and the requisite advertising dollars that would come with them. Networks get money by demanding fees for cable companies to carry them.
Here’s Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth:
“According to the New York Daily News, Speed currently reaches 87 million homes and charges an average monthly affiliate fee of just $0.22; when the network becomes Fox Sports 1 and adds sports like Champions League soccer to its programming mix, that fee reportedly will jump to as much as $1.00. Again, do the math: Over a single year's time, that's a four-fold revenue jump, from roughly $230 million to about $1 billion. Is it any wonder that Fox recently signed rights agreements with the Pac-12 and the reconfigured Big East that total more than $150 million annually?”
7. The funny thing about last week’s Fox Sports “Golden Boy Live!” main event is that the middleweight contender who scored the stellar knockout victory, Danny Jacobs, might not be anywhere near as well-known for the moment as the man on the receiving end of said KO, Giovanni Lorenzo.
That’s because the Fox Sports production crew caught the final blows in super slow-motion, and the replay showed a close-up of Lorenzo’s face being temporarily — and caricaturishly — reshaped. That replay then was made into a GIF and found its way into posts on popular sports blogs and numerous other websites.
It was a nice win for Jacobs, who is now four fights and about a year into his return from cancer that had wrapped around his spine, left him unable to walk and very well could have proven fatal. Here’s hoping his PR team gets him on sports talk shows and local news programs, which could show the replay and then interview Jacobs about the win, and himself.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: British welterweight Lee Purdy was one of six people arrested last week and accused of money laundering, according to BBC News.
Their charges are “in connection with frauds against elderly and vulnerable people in Essex,” the report said. “Seven other people have already been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation between 2009 and 2013. Police said nearly 40 people, aged 65 to 99, were thought to have been victims of fraud totaling more than £1 million.”
More details on what the alleged fraud entailed were not included in the article. Purdy is free on bail and due back in court on Sept. 10.
The 26-year-old was last seen in May stepping in against Devon Alexander as a late replacement for Kell Brook. Alexander topped Purdy via a seventh-round technical knockout. The loss brought Purdy’s record to 20-4-1 with 13 knockouts.
9. The only way you’ll ever see Roy Jones on HBO again is when he’s working as a commentator for the network’s boxing broadcasts. That doesn’t mean he’s hanging up his gloves just yet, unfortunately.
Last month, there were reports that Jones would be facing mixed martial artist Rampage Jackson in a boxing match. Instead, Jackson will be stepping into the cage against fellow faded fighter Tito Ortiz.
Jones last fought 14 months ago, when he beat Pawel Glazewski by split decision. Now his name is being floated out there as a potential foe for club-fighter Bobby Gunn.
Of course, that floating is being done by Gunn’s PR team, which according to my archives has sent out at least five releases about a potential Gunn-Jones fight over the past year and a half. The last one, sent Aug. 13, claims they are close to securing the fight.
Gunn is nearly 40, is 21-5-1 with 18 knockouts, and hasn’t fought since injuring his hand in a loss to an old and out of shape James Toney in April 2012. His record also includes blowout defeats at cruiserweight against Tomasz Adamek in 2009 and Enzo Maccarinelli in 2007.
He told Michael Woods of The Sweet Science last week that he’s been texting with Jones about their bout for six weeks.
Jones is turning 45 in January. He is 56-8 with 40 knockouts.
10. I have the perfect marketing slogan for Bobby Gunn vs. Roy Jones Jr.:
Gunn vs. Shot…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]