By Robert Morales
Abner Mares is not one to boast. But when he was asked Wednesday if he could have imagined he would be standing here today having won major championships in three weight classes and be a legitimate top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, he reminded a reporter that it could have happened even sooner.
"You know what? I'm going to answer this honestly," Mares said after a workout at Elite Martial Arts Academy in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. "I could have been champion way before, but we all know what happened when I had the surgery (for a detached retina) when I was out for about a year (from June 2008 to May 2009). I could have been champion then.
"But I'm the type of guy that thinks and believes in God and believes that everything happens for a reason. I'm here now, more mature, a married man, I've got two daughters, I'm centered, I've got my feet on the ground, I think, more clearly. There couldn't be a better time to be a champion than now. I'm a three-time world champion, thank God, at a great time in my career, my life and it's now just taking advantage of my young years because you know how it is. Boxing years are fast, they go by fast and you've gotta take full advantage of them."
It's not easy getting Mares to brag about himself. Never has been. Still, we pressed him because, as he so correctly noted, he did have an interruption to his career. It might have only been 11 months, but this was a detached retina, something that can end a fighter's career.
Yet, here he is, an incredible fighter who comes up with one big victory after another.
"It's not so much the ability, it's the desire, the effort, the dedication that I put in, that I have been putting in for many years, even since I went to the Olympics in 2004," said Mares, who Aug. 24 will defend his featherweight title against Jhonny Gonzalez of Mexico at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. (on Showtime). "I have been doing this my whole life, so I've always had the mind-set that I wanted to be someone and be something in life.
"Thank God to my family, that they always supported me. That's why I think it doesn't surprise me. Now it's just a matter of where and how many titles, and how far we're going to get."
Mares almost expects to lose at some point
We asked Mares about goals moving forward. He doled out a response for which we were not quite prepared.
"I don't know why, but I don't see myself retiring undefeated because I know there's way better fighters than me," he said. "You know, I'm not the most technical fighter out there, I'm not the most skillful fighter out there. But I am one of the harder workers out there and I don't see myself retiring undefeated because I'm fighting these tough fights after tough fights.
"Definitely I want to keep winning. And I should, and I wish I could. But I just want to retire as one of the most recognized fighters that took it old school, you know? And fought nothing but the best back-to-back-to-back and never feared anyone and just made a statement that we're here to fight the best. We're here to defend our titles against the best, and that's it."
Mares' biggest victory
Mares mentioned his old-school attitude, fighting the best and so forth. In a boxing world where some promoters try to protect their fighters and keep them champion as long as possible by lining them up with set-up fights, Mares and his manager Frank Espinoza and promoter Golden Boy Promotions have gone at things differently.
Since May 2010, Mares has fought Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko, Agbeko again, Eric Morel, Anselmo Moreno and Daniel Ponce De Leon. Mares won every one of those fights except for the one with Perez, which was scored a draw.
The only questionable opponent among them was Morel, a former champion who at 36 was past his prime. And most certainly, the most impressive victory among the six came last May 4 when Mares decked Ponce De Leon twice, stopping him in the ninth round on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero welterweight title fight at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Whereas it was Mares' first fight at featherweight, the hard-hitting Ponce De Leon had been a featherweight for five years.
Even the humble Mares couldn't downplay this performance.
"That has to be my most impressive victory because so many doubters, I mean, it's not the first fight that people doubted me," said Mares, 27, who recently bought a home in Downey, not too far from Los Angeles. "When I fought Agbeko, a lot of people were thinking I was going to lose. When I fought Anselmo Moreno, a lot of people thought I was going to lose because of the styles. I understand why. But this one, it was just everything. I mean, moving up in weight, not knocking out guys in so many fights, not carrying that punch over to that weight class, smaller guy.
"So I had everything against me. And to top it off, on a big card such as the undercard for Mayweather. So, yeah, that was the most impressive victory for me, for my young career. I think I made a statement."
As terrific as Mares had been, though he had decked the likes of Darchyinyan, Agbeko and Moreno, he had not had a win inside the distance since knocking out Felipe Almanza in the fifth round in March 2010 in Los Angeles.
When he entered the ring against Ponce De Leon, there were more than a few reporters who thought Mares might have bitten off more than he could chew, that he might be knocked out. Then Mares ate up Ponce De Leon, flooring him twice on the way to his most noteworthy victory.
Arum perturbed at 'rivalry' connotation
Apparently, a good way to get under the skin of promoter Bob Arum is to suggest that there is a rivalry between his Top Rank Inc. and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. It doesn't matter that pretty much everyone in boxing believes it exists to a serious extent. Arum is not of that mind.
So there we were, a handful of reporters, recently having lunch with Arum at a bistro in Hollywood. A discussion about the battle between major networks HBO and Showtime was taking place, and it was suggested to Arum that perhaps that's a good thing because it might force promoters and networks to put on the best top-to-bottom cards.
Arum was agreeable to that.
"A lot of it is the competition between Showtime and HBO," Arum said. "And so therefore there is a great desire to provide attractions better than the other network.
And those attractions are competitive fights. So you see far fewer appearance fights than you did in the past."
Arum said he sees this as a plus.
"That's what I think, yeah," he said.
However, Arum said that nothing is perfect and there has always got to be some give and take.
"So what you get now is, you're getting really good fights, really," Arum said. "I mean, this (Mike) Alvarado and (Ruslan) Provodnikov is a terrific fight. If they (Golden Boy) make (Danny) Garcia and (Lucas) Matthysse, that's a really good fight. So those are really good, good fights. And that helps revive the interest in the sport because if people see a really good fight like they did with Provodnikov and Timothy Bradley (last March), then it's entertaining. They don't want to see, no matter how good the guy is, boring fights."
Alvarado-Provodnikov - a Top Rank fight - could take place Oct. 19 in Denver and presumably be televised by HBO, the major network with which Arum works, if it gets done. Lee Samuels, a Top Rank spokesman, on Wednesday texted, "They are working on it." Garcia-Matthysse - a Golden Boy fight - will take place Sept. 14 on the undercard of Mayweather-Saul Alvarez at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It will be televised on Showtime pay-per-view; Golden Boy works with Showtime on its major events.
Things were rolling along nicely, until one reporter wondered if the rivalry between Top Rank and Golden Boy is going to hurt what the networks are doing because the two biggest promotional companies are not doing business together. Arum responded quickly, and with a hint of anger.
"There is no rivalry between us and Golden Boy," Arum said on no uncertain terms.
The promoter was then reminded that he isn't doing any fights with Golden Boy.
"Because we're each with a different network," he said. "Look, I'll explain it to you. They have Corona, we have Tecate. They have Televisa, we have TV Azteca. So it's very difficult to do a fight together. It has nothing to do with like and dislike. Who gives a s**t about that? But they have different customers, and we have different customers and so you can't put it together. I can't tell TV Azteca, 'Sorry, we're giving this fight to Televisa.' They can't say, 'Televisa, sorry, we're giving the fight to Azteca,' because then they'll lose what's an essential element to their business.
"You've gotta understand it. If you talk in terms of like and dislike, then you're talking moronic."
It was intimated to Arum that Golden Boy has made no bones about not liking Top Rank very much.
"Well, they talk that way because the truth is they haven't been in this business as long as I have," Arum said. "I don't talk that way because when we didn't have these types of problems, even though (Don) King and I disliked each other, that never was an impediment to making a fight together because we didn't have all these other issues. I'm a businessman. I couldn't give a s**t about their liking and disliking. I'm not going to bed with them."
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Los Angeles Daily News and BoxingScene.com.