Amidst all the hoopla of the first network primetime fight card this Saturday night on the peacock channel NBC, three-time divisional champion Abner Mares returns to the ring on his road back to hopefully another world title. Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” will go on air with WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman defending against former champion Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr. On the undercard Mares (28-1-1, 15KO) will face fellow Mexican Arturo Santos (18-4, 5KO) in a featherweight ten rounder.
Eighteen months ago Mares was on top of the world. Undefeated, champion at bantamweight, super bantamweight and with a knockout of Daniel Ponce De Leon in nine, at featherweight, Mares was considered one of the biggest names in the sport and one of the most popular. A defense of his title a couple of months after against veteran Jhonny Gonzalez was only supposed to be a formality on his way to bigger fights including a crosstown match up against fellow Angeleno Leo Santa Cruz. That all changed with a left hook. Gonzalez sent Mares flailing to the canvas in the first round in front of thousands at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA, and some other thousands on Showtime. Two knockdowns later and Gonzalez was the new WBC featherweight champion, a title he still holds.
Mares responded to his only loss with a change of his longtime manager Frank Espinoza with advisor du jour Al Haymon and trainer Clemente Medina with Virgil Hunter. Nearly a year later Mares came back and faced Puerto Rican Jonathan Oquendo on the undercard of “Canelo” Alvarez vs Erislandy Lara. Mares didn’t look his best and that prompted him to go back to Clemente Medina soon thereafter. Last December Mares stopped Jose Ramirez in five after sending him to the canvas three times in a much better performance.
Now Mares finds himself under the banner of Haymon’s experiment. Mares is not part in the main event or co-main but just another fighter on the card. In front of him will be Santos, A fighter looking to make a name for himself by beating the now twenty-nine year old. Santos record might not look all that impressive but he is an experienced fighter who competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Santos has faced the likes of Fernando Montiel, Hozumi Hasegawa and Simpiwe Vetyeka losing every time. Basically when he steps up, he loses.
Santos should give Mares some rounds, even the full ten, but he shouldn’t be a match for Mares who is solidly building a return. For many in boxing what Mares needs to get back to where he once was is a signature fight. A fight where it is not a sure thing if he will win or not. Just like his great wins over Darchinyan, Perez, Agbeko, Moreno and Ponce De Leon. Is Santa Cruz that foe? Could it be Nonito Donaire? Anybody remember that proposed fight? Or would he step up and face Guillermo Rigondeaux? We will soon find out.