By Corey Erdman
After suffering his first professional loss to Jhonny Gonzalez, Abner Mares took it easy, by his standards.
In an eight month span, Mares took on Jonathan Oquendo, Jose Ramirez and Arturo Santos Reyes, a trio of undercard bouts as he collected himself following the shocking knockout loss to Gonzalez. Those would have been passable matchups for most fighters, but for a fighter who had consistently put himself in dangerous situations throughout his career, it was a bit alarming, and drew criticism from fans and critics alike.
Was Mares not the brave fighter he once was?
He put those questions to rest when he faced a much bigger, much stronger Leo Santa Cruz in April of 2015. Though he came up short in a bid for the vacant WBA featherweight title, what he earned back was perhaps more valuable.
“It was a great fight against Leo. I came up short, but I got the respect from the people. I earned their respect, and that's a title for me right there,” said Mares.
The three-time world champion will make an attempt at a fourth strap on June 25, and he won't do it the easy way either. Mares takes on the hard-charging Jesus Cuellar for the WBA featherweight title, in a bout slated as the co-feature to the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter welterweight showdown on CBS.
“I want to make a point that I'm a fighter who never took the easy route. I will always chase the best and toughest opponent out there,” said Mares.
The reality is that if you want a title at featherweight right now, there are no easy options. The men holding the belts right now are named Cuellar, Santa Cruz, Gary Russell and Vasyl Lomachenko. Mares will have now challenged two of them, and also the man Russell beat to win the WBC title, Jhonny Gonzalez.
If Mares can't get past Cuellar at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, it might come down to genetics. In lower weight classes, Mares was able to mug opponents on the inside, while posessing plenty of boxing ability to mix it up. But at just over 5'4”, the elite featherweights have thus far proven to be too much for him physically.
Cuellar is the kind of rough and tumble pressure fighter who could confirm that. And yet, Mares is willing to step in and get the answer.
“He's a great champion in his prime. He's strong, he's young. Just like I like 'em man. It's a tremendous fight against a tremendous fighter in prime time. What more could you ask for?”