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Mares says he’s ready for his big moment

18
May

Abner Mares speaks with understated confidence in spite of his age and relative lack of professional experience.

The 2004 Mexican Olympian, who moved to the U.S. with his mother and siblings when he was a child, has had to overcome some unusual obstacles but he figured long ago that he’d be fighting for a world title some day.

And while he doesn’t underestimate his opponent on the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez card Saturday in Los Angeles — bantamweight titleholder Yonnhy Perez — he’s pretty sure who will win.

“I have a little bit more tools as far as boxing,” Mares said at media workout Tuesday at a gym in Hollywood. “I’m a more-compete fighter than he is. I said it.”

Mares (20-0, 13 knockouts) wasn’t always so sure about the future.

Only a year and a half ago, as he was preparing for a title shot against then-champion Gerry Penalosa on the Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao undercard on Dec. 6, 2008 in Las Vegas, he was diagnosed with a detached retina.

Doctors initially told him his career was prematurely over, leaving him devastated and lost. He worked as a security guard for a short time and took classes at a community college near his home in Norwalk, Calif., first steps toward a second career.

And then he lost trainer Nacho Beristain over a disagreement between Beristain and his new manager, Frank Espinoza.

Mares survived the double setback. Surgery on the eye was a success, allowing him to return to the ring only five months after he was supposed to fight Penalosa and he and new trainer Joel Diaz have a happy partnership.

The opportunity to fight for a title — every boxer’s dream — comes later than he thought it would but he feels he’s better prepared now than he would’ve been in 2008.

“Things happen for a reason,” he said. “I had my eye problem, a detached retina. I had appendicitis [earlier in his career] that kept me out for six months. So many things. Things happen for a reason. I’m more mature now. I’m 24 years old. I got a family, a beautiful family going.

“I’m ready for this. There’s no better time than now.”

Mares wasn’t boasting about his chances on Saturday out of ignorance. He knows Perez (20-0, 14 KOs) very well.

They fought three times as amateurs — Mares winning twice — and became friends. Mares’ father later helped bring Perez from Colombia to the United States and became his manager, although that relationship is coming to an end.

They actually lived together for a short time with a friend of Mares’ father, which brought them even closer.

This is business, though, a collision of two determined young men with families to feed and dreams of becoming great fighters. And it’s a business in which Mares and his handlers believe strongly he has most of the advantages.

Perez is a relentless attacker who breaks down opponents with his punch volume. One might compare him to brawlers like Antonio Margarito or Alfredo Angulo, although he probably is somewhat more skillful than they are.

Mares is the more-gifted boxer but he also fights aggressively. He manages to avoid most of his opponents’ punches at the same time he dishes out punishment, a combination of skills reserved for elite boxers. He’s truly a complete fighter.

The same probably can’t be said of Perez.

“I think Abner is just more talented than Yonnhy,” said Diaz, who also knows Perez well because he’s worked in his corner. “Of course, Yonnhy is a work horse. He comes forward. He takes punches and he’s always there.

“Their skill levels are very different, though. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised — especially if Abner wins by a knockout.”

Mares also has special motivation for this fight. His grandmother and biggest fan, who lived in Mexico, passed away a week ago.

She had been ill for some time.

“I talked to her,” he said. “She told me that she was going to wait for me. She lives in Mexico. She was sick already, she was in bed. She said she’s waiting to see my fight. And after the fight, she was going to be waiting for me. But God had something else planned and he took her about a week ago. ÔǪ She saw me when I went to the Olympics, the proudest grandma ever.

“Too bad she’s not going to get to see world champion Abner Mares. She will from up there. It’s helped me, motivated me to train even harder to get that for her.”

All of the above could be bad news for Perez.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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