By Francisco Salazar
Before squaring off against Israel Vazquez on September 16th, 2006, Jhonny Gonzalez needed fighters to spar against in preparation for that fight.
While world title holders and contenders are the norm, especially for a fighter the caliber of Gonzalez, any fighter would do.
Gonzalez paid a call to a young unbeaten fighter from the Los Angeles-area. This young fighter had been a pro for over a year, but had lots of pedigree since he had fought in the Olympics two years prior.
Who was that fighter Gonzalez prepped for Vazquez, even in a losing effort? Abner Mares.
Fast forward almost seven years later and Mares is still unbeaten. However, Mares would win world title belts in three different weight classes and has faced some of the best fighters in those weight classes.
Gonzalez would become a world title holder in two different weight classes, but currently does not have a world title.
Both will collide in a classic crossroads bout between champion and former champion on August 24th at the Stubhub (formerly known as the Home Depot) Center in Carson, CA.
The bout will headline a Golden Boy Promotions card that will also feature Leo Santa Cruz challenging Victor Terrazas for a super bantamweight world title. Both bouts will be televised on Showtime.
Mares has gained a reputation of fighting tough and talented fighters within the last three years. He is coming off a ninth round stoppage victory over Daniel Ponce De Leon on May 4th. It was a fight some in the boxing world wondered if Mares was not only capable of taking a punch from the hard-hitting Ponce De Leon, but winning for that matter.
However, Mares demonstrated his power at a higher weight, dropping Ponce De Leon twice during the bout.
“Abner wants those fight,” said Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez at a press conference Thursday to formally announce the card. “He doesn’t want those easy fights. He wants to fight.”
“However, Jhonny Gonzalez possesses one-punch power in each hand. He’s a dangerous fighter who wants to become a champion again.”
Gonzalez (54-8, 46 KOs) is only 31 years old, but it seems as though he has fought for just as long. Gonzalez is a former world title holder in two different weight divisions and believes he is still a relevant fighter at 126 pounds.
Gonzalez understands the difficulties of attempting to dethrone a fighter with the talent of Mares.
“Mares is a great fighter and a great champion,” said Gonzalez through Skype from Mexico City. “There is a reason why he’s a world champion.”
If one looks at the last seven fights of Mares, he has faced current or former world title holders (Mares faced Joseph Agbeko twice). Mares has gained popularity and respect because he has never shied away from facing elite competition at this stage of career.
Mares (26-0-1, 14 KOs) even made a light-hearted joke about it to the media.
“It seems like (matchmaker) Eric Gomez doesn’t like me because of all the tough fights I’ve been in.”
His upcoming bout against Gonzalez will not be easy even though some in boxing wonder whether he still has that elite skill to his repertoire. As the old adage goes, power stays with fighters regardless of how old they are.
It is something Mares has known during the time he sparred against Gonzalez back in 2006 and what he acknowledges today.
“Jhonny Gonzalez has over 60 fights and over 40 knockouts,” said Mares, who is managed by Frank Espinoza. “He’s a tough fighter, so I’m expecting a tough fight.”
“I remember sparring against him when he was a champion before he fought (Israel) Vazquez. Now I’m the champion and he’s the challenger. Who knew we were going to meet one day down the line?”
Probably no one, but then again, that is boxing. It works in mysterious ways, but most times, the fans and the sport benefit. Regardless of how the fight plays out, Mares-Gonzalez should be a fun fight between a fighter at the top of his game and a fighter eager to prove he is still a relevant fighter in the division.
Also at the press conference was Leo Santa Cruz, who will take on Victor Terrazas in a scheduled 12 round bout for Terrazas’ WBC title.
Santa Cruz (24-0-1, 14 KOs) is coming off a fifth round stoppage victory over Alexander Munoz on May 4th in Las Vegas. It was his first fight at 122 pounds, a weight where he feels much more comfortable at.
“I’m just honored to fight for the WBC world title. My dream has always been to win titles with my father and those close to me. I’m not letting this opportunity to fight for a world title go by.”