By Jake Donovan
When you boast a résumé and upcoming schedule like that of Abner Mares, you know better than to look past the opponent in front of you. The 27-year old endured a brutal schedule dating back to his first title fight with Yonnhy Perez in May ’10, yet remains unbeaten while collecting three titles along the way.
Another tough test awaits, as Mares makes the first defense of his featherweight belt against Jhonny Gonzalez on August 24 in Carson, California. The bout headlines a Showtime Championship Boxing doubleheader, but it’s the other leg of the show that has people talking about Mares’ future.
Leo Santa Cruz meets defending 122 lb. titlist Vic Terrazas, with serious talk about the evening’s winners facing off against one another down the road. The card doesn’t mark the first time that Mares and Santa Cruz have appeared on the same show, nor are talks of a future clash anything he hasn’t repeatedly heard in the past.
“This is the third time in a row I’m seeing Leo on a card where I’m fighting. It’s not an accident,” Mares (26-0-1, 14KO) says of the unbeaten former bantamweight titlist. “There’s definitely hope and chance that the fight can happen one day.”
Mares doesn’t say that with any hint of disrespect towards the opponent he’s facing. Gonzalez enters on the heels of a two-fight win streak following last year’s concession of the featherweight title to Daniel Ponce de Leon, whom Mares stopped in nine rounds to win the belt this past May.
“I’m expecting an A-plus version of Jhonny Gonzalez,” Mares promises. “People are talking like this is his last chance at a world title. He hears it and wants to prove everyone wrong. I hear it and expect a hungry ex-champion to try to knock me out.”
Should all go well for Mares and Santa Cruz – neither of whom are in gimme fights – talks will further ramp up for a head-on collision after sharing airtime on three recent cards. Mares’ aforementioned knockout of Ponce de Leon and Santa Cruz’ effortless stoppage of faded former champ Alex Muñoz both served as preliminary bouts to Floyd Mayweather’s points win over Robert Guerrero in May.
Prior to that, Mares and Santa Cruz posted wins in separate bouts on a shared Showtime telecast last November in Los Angeles. Santa Cruz beat down Victor Zaleta in nine rounds, while Mares posted a career-best win with a well-earned majority decision over Anselmo Moreno.
Regardless of whether or not they eventually meet doesn’t change Mares’ thoughts on the 24-year old volume puncher.
“He’s a really good fighter,” Mares admits without hesitation. “I was the first guy who named him ‘Little Margarito’ a long time ago. He fights just like him and throws a lot of punches. He’s a tornado. He’s a great fighter who has the same mentality; he goes in to please the crowd.”
Both fights on the August 24 card are expected to be crowd-pleasers. So too would what appears to be an inevitable head-on collision. Don’t expect it to impact Mares’ performance any, though.
“Not at all,” Mares insists when asked if extra pressure is placed to win and look good given what’s at stake. “I can’t speak for Leo. For me, it’s already how I fight. I take these tough fights because I’m not scared to lose. It motivates me to train and fight the way I do.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox