By Rich Mancuso
Abner Mares has been there as a three-time division world champion and perhaps his biggest test will come Saturday December 10 on Showtime opposing Jesus Cuellar for the featherweight title. This is another opportunity for Mares to make a statement and the preparation started a year ago when joining forces with trainer Robert Garcia.
This is a transformation for Mares now that Garcia, a trainer with success is in nis corner. It has been a year in the making for Mares who has not been in the ring since losing a majority decision to Leo Santa Cruz August of last year for the WBA super featherweight title.
And for a fighter, that change and hiatus becomes a positive. Mares,at one time was the aggressor and had two epic battles four years ago that went his way as a bantamweight against Joseph Agbeko.
“This is going to be a smarter Abner Mares,” he said. “I’ve been training a lot with Robert Garcia. They gave us a year to train and learn together. He’s a knowledgeable coach. Not a guy who works mitts. This is a real deal, he gets you better and I’m real happy with him.”
Not that Mares, the 31-year old Mexican-American had issues with his previous ways of preparing for championship fights that show three titles on his resume. Boxing has always been about adapting and changing styles, and this fight will have Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach in the opposite corner who has trained Cuellar the past four months.
Roach does know a little something about how styles makes fights. He will be coming off possibly his last fight in the corner of the eight-time division champion Manny Pacquiao, and Mares knows that Roach preaches going to the body for that advantage.
The Premiere Boxing Champions boxing card at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles will also feature super welterweight champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Julian Williams, two undefeated rising stars in the sport as Showtime and the PBC begin a busy period of televised fights that extends into March of the new year.
And for Mares, who has been inactive, this is a fight that can define where he goes. At one point there was discussion of taking on the lightweights but Garcia has his fighter where he belongs.
“We’ve been working side-by-side and we’ve had a lot of time to learn about each other,” said Garcia a veteran in his own right.
The two prepared for the Argentinian Cuellar earlier this year. The June 25th date at Barclays Center in New York, as a part of the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter welterweight title main event, was cancelled because the New York State Athletic Commission said Mares failed his eye exams. They said in a report that surgery from a detached retina in 2008 was not fit to fight and Mares went on the offensive about their decision.
That caused a change in plan, and Mares has another theory about the NYSAC findings. But that is now in the past as the agenda is to be in the ring with Cuellar, a dangerous puncher who earned his right to the title as he continued to focus on finally getting this fight.
Cuellar also continued his focus.
“We never stopped training for this fight,” said Cuellar with a 28-1 record and 21 KO’s to his credit. “Mares will come prepared for a war and I hope that’s what the fight is like. It’s going to prove who has the bigger heart.”
So the wait has been anticipated and Mares, does not want to stop. Fighters are not the types to look ahead, but Mares wants that return bout and take on the winner of the Santa Cruz-Carl Frampton rematch, and those two had a fight of the year candidate in New York earlier this year.
“I never talk down about a fighter,” said Mares.” We all deserve our respect. We all have the same desire to strive to be the best. Cuellar is a beast. He hits hard. The record speaks for itself and that’s what has me so excited. This is the kind of fight I want to be in. It brings the best out of me.”
He added, “I want the winner of the Frampton vs. Santa Cruz rematch. I want to continue to fight the best. I want to be known as a guy who fights the best.”
But first and foremost, Mares has to get past Cuellar who has also been inactive and got the unanimous decision over Jonathan Oquendo last December in New York that retained the title.
He said, “I’m a new man. I’m a grown man. I have two beautiful daughters. I like to learn something new every day. You will see a different Abner on December 10. This is going to end the year with the ‘Fight of the Year.”
Cruz and Frampton was a 12-round spectacle. Mares has been there in the past and with a new trainer and opportunity to finally face Cuellar, this could live up to expectations. Styles makes fights and this qualifies but the only question is the hiatus between fights.
“If I have to make it into a brawl, I will do that,” said Mares. “ I have the boxing abilities to be the smarter fighter and win by out boxing him. I learn from all of my fights, especially the losses. From the Santa Cruz fight I learned that I really need to listen to my corner. I let the crowd get to me and fought the wrong fight. I’m going to be ready for everything.”
And this time, Mares will be fighting close to home. That contingent of fans from nearby Montebello California will be there.
“I’m going to add something to my trophy case,” he said.