Mares eager to end long layoff, claim a fourth world title

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If Abner Mares has learned anything in the past year, it’s the value of patience.

A former three-division world champion, Mares has been idle since August 29, 2015, when he lost a majority decision to Southern California rival Leo Santa Cruz in an epic brawl for a vacant 126-pound title.

The 15-month layoff wasn’t something Abner Mares desired but instead was beyond his control. He was originally slated to return to action March 12 against former champion Fernando Montiel on the undercard of the 147-pound title bout between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, but the main event was postponed in mid-February after Thurman was injured in a car accident.

When the fight was rescheduled for June 25 in Brooklyn, New York, Mares again was to be part of the card, only this time he would challenge southpaw 126-pound titleholder Jesus Cuellar. Then that match was scrapped when Mares failed to pass the New York State Athletic Commission’s strict vision exam.

Finally, after a long, inactive summer, Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) last month got the news he had longed to hear: The fight against Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) was back on, this time at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Mares’ hometown of Los Angeles (Showtime 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).

Not only that, but the December 10 title clash was elevated to main-event status and given a very strong lead-in bout between 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo and top-ranked challenger Julian Williams, a pair of undefeated 26-year-old sluggers.

During a break from training camp last week, Mares acknowledged that the lengthy ring absence has been aggravating, but he managed to find a few silver linings.

“I was frustrated initially, but I see a bright side for three reasons,” said Mares, a 31-year-old who arrived in Los Angeles from his native Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico with his mother, Belen Martinez, as a 7-year-old.

“No. 1, I got more time to train with a new coach, Robert Garcia. No. 2, I had all year to prepare for a southpaw. No. 3, I’m fighting in my hometown of Los Angeles as the main event.”

Never one to back down from a tough fight, Mares knows he will have his hands full with the 29-year-old Cuellar, who will have advantages in height, reach and—most significantly—power. The Argentine knockout artist has stopped 75 percent of his foes, including six of the last nine. And the three opponents who made it the distance against Cueller all ended up on their backsides during the fight.

“Cuellar's all muscle—big and strong, like many of the Argentinian fighters,” said Richard Schaefer, who is promoting the December 10 card. “He has a big punch and is dangerous every second of every round—like a smaller version of Marcos Maidana.”

Cuellar will represent the fourth high-profile lefty that Mares has faced since 2010, and the Mexican-American brawler will be looking to repeat his results from the previous three.

Mares earned a split decision over Vic Darchinyan in a 118-pound bout in December 2010, won a unanimous decision over lefty Anselmo Moreno in November 2012 and dropped 126-pound titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon twice on his way to a ninth-round TKO in March 2013, winning his third world title in the process.

As he attempts to make it 4-for-4 against southpaws and snatch his fourth championship, Mares is respectful of Cuellar, who is 11-0 with seven KOs since suffering his only loss to Oscar Escandon in November 2011.

He said he understands the threat Cuellar poses and knows he’ll have to put together a tactically strong game plan—which could mean a departure from his usually crowd-pleasing aggressive style.

“Cuellar’s got me in height, reach, weight and power,” said Mares, known as a strategic boxer-puncher with calculated power and infighting skills. “Cuellar’s a dangerous pressure fighter, but [he’s] slow.

“He awakens my instincts to be a smarter, better boxer.”

One advantage Mares has in his corner is Garcia, who helped guide Cuellar to six of his victories (three KOs) in as many fights. The most recent victory was an eighth-round stoppage of Darchinyan in June 2015.

In his first and only fight since splitting with Garcia, Cuellar earned a unanimous decision over Jonathan Oquendo on December 5. Cuellar was trained by Juan Manuel Ledesma for that fight, but began working this summer with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who will be in the champ's corner against Mares.

Mares, who also won a unanimous decision over Oquendo (in July 2014), joined forces with Garcia earlier this year, and the two quickly developed a strong rapport. Now Mares intends to show Cuellar he should’ve never let Garcia fall to him.

“Cuellar will learn it was a big mistake to leave Robert,” Mares said. “I'm giving the fans a Fight of the Year performance. … This is my chance to win a fourth world title.”

For complete coverage of Cuellar vs Mares, hit up our fight page.

Abner Mares

Trainer Robert Garcia looks on as Abner Mares shadowboxes during a recent workout. Mares returns to action December 10 against 126-pound champion Jesus Cuellar, who used to train under Garcia. (Ryan Greene/Premier Boxing Champions)

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