December is a time when everyone is looking for a good two-for-one deal. This holiday season, boxing fans will be treated to a two-for treat that will be impossible to resist.
A pair of long-rumored and highly anticipated championship fights are finally set for December 10, as Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) defends his 126-pound title against former three-division champion Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs), while Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs) risks his 154-pound crown against unbeaten No. 1 contender Julian Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs).
The action-packed fight card from the Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles will be air live on Showtime and be presented in association with Premier Boxing Champions.
Cuellar and Mares were originally scheduled to meet June 25 on the undercard of the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter 147-pound title showdown. However, the fight was canceled when Mares failed to meet the New York State Athletic Commission’s vision standards.
More than six months later, the two Hispanic warriors will finally get it on, as Cuellar makes the sixth defense of a title he won on August 23, 2013, when he defeated Claudio Marrero by unanimous decision.
Cuellar subsequently made three successful defenses as an interim titleholder before being elevated to full champion ahead of his eighth-round TKO of Vic Darchinyan on June 6, 2015. A 29-year-old native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Cuellar has since fought once, earning a unanimous decision over Jonathan Oquendo on December 5.
“This is the most important fight of my career, as Mares is one of the best in this loaded featherweight division,” Cuellar said. “We had to wait very long for this fight to happen, but everything happens for a reason and I’m grateful that the time is almost here.
“I know that this will be a war. I’ve been working hard with [trainer] Freddie Roach, and I’m excited to show what I’ve learned. I am more motivated than ever to keep my title and prove who is the best in the division.”
While Cuellar will be returning to action for the first time in slightly more than a year, Mares will be ending a ring absence of more than 15 months. The Mexican-born, Los Angeles-based Mares last fought on August 29, 2015, when he and Southern California rival Leo Santa Cruz engaged in an epic brawl for a vacant 126-pound title.
The two fighters combined to throw more than 2,000 punches in a Fight of the Year candidate, with Santa Cruz pulling out a majority decision to snap Mares’ three-fight win streak.
Mares was to get back in the ring March 12 against former five-time world champion Fernando Montiel as part of the original Thurman-Porter undercard, but that main event was rescheduled for June 25 after Thurman was injured in a single-car accident.
Needless to say, Mares—a onetime 118-, 122- and 126-pound world champ—is eager to lace up the gloves and win a title for a fourth time.
“I’m 100 percent healthy and ready to go,” said Mares, who will turn 31 on November 28. “This is a fight that I’ve wanted, and I’m glad to be giving the fans a great show at the end of the year. Come watch me on December 10 and see what a warrior looks like.”
Equally as anticipated as Cuellar-Mares is the battle between Charlo and Williams, two hammer-fisted 26-year-olds anxious to solidify their spot atop a loaded 154-pound division.
Charlo earned his title last September with an emphatic third-round TKO of Cornelius Bundrage, then quickly defended it six weeks later with a fourth-round TKO of Wilky Campfort. That latter victory was Charlo’s 17th stoppage in his previous 18 bouts.
After defeating Campfort, Charlo was due to face Williams, but instead was granted a one-fight exemption to defend his title against former champion Austin Trout on May 21. In what was the most competitive fight of his career, Charlo prevailed by unanimous decision to set up the showdown with Williams.
Originally slated to take place in October, the bout was put on hold after Charlo underwent vision-correction surgery in July. The delay led some to speculate that Charlo would vacate his title and move up in weight rather than face Williams. The champion from Houston says nothing could be further from the truth.
“I’ve always wanted to fight Julian Williams. I don’t know where the rumors came about that I was dodging him or anything like that,” Charlo says. “I’m not the one who’s in charge of picking [my opponents].
“I’m not worried about Julian Williams. I’m here to fight. I’m here to give you my all—blood, sweat and tears. Whatever I have to do to get this ‘W,’ I’m going to do it. So let’s fight. Let’s give these people the fight they’ve wanted to see.”
An athletic boxer-puncher from Philadelphia, Williams earned the right to face Charlo on March 5 when he plowed through Italy’s Marcello Matano in a title eliminator, winning by seventh-round TKO. That came on the heels of an 87-second wipeout of veteran Luciano Cuello last September.
While Charlo has made quick work of 16 of his last 18 foes, Williams has been pretty efficient himself of late, stopping seven of his last nine opponents, including the last three in row. Even more impressively, “J Rock” has won 57 consecutive rounds.
Williams said he’s excited to get the opportunity to try to extend that streak against Charlo rather than fight a lesser opponent for a vacant crown.
“It’s always better to fight against a guy who everybody wants to see you fight rather than a Joe Blow and win the title, you know what I mean?” Williams said. “It would have been, ‘Oh, he didn’t fight the best.’ So I’m glad that I’m fighting Jermall because he’s considered one of the best, and that’s what it’s all about.
“Everybody wants to get the most money for the least amount of resistance, but the sport was founded on the best fighting the best, and that’s what I think this fight is right here.”