Mares Takes on "King Kong"
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (April 18, 2011) Doghouse Boxing) Photo © Miguel Salazar
Abner Mares
Abner Mares faces Joseph Agbeko this weekend at the Nokia Theater in the finals of Showtime's (10:30 PM, ET/PT) four-man bantamweight tournament. Not only is Agbeko's IBF bantamweight title at stake; the claim to being the clear challenger to Nonito Donaire as the world's best 118-pounder is also up for grabs. However, during the early part of his semifinal bout versus Vic Darchinyan back in December, it looked like Mares would be relegated to the consolation fight.

After four rounds at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington, Mares was not only floored in the first, he was deducted a point in the fourth round. So essentially he was at least five points down, just a third of the way into this bout.  Oh, and did we mention he was also cut from an accidental clash of noggins?

Mares didn't just have a hole to dig out from but a canyon-sized crater.

"It's funny; I wasn't thinking of losing. I didn't think, 'Oh, I got the fight lost' or anything at all," recalled Mares, a couple of weeks ago at the Maywood Boxing Club after his day’s training session. "When I first got knocked own, first thing that came to my mind was the [Juan Manuel] Marquez and [Manny] Pacquiao fight, when [Marquez] got knocked down three times and he still got a draw in the fight. So when I got knocked down, I was like, 'This is nothing.' I wasn't even dazed; it was nothing. I was still in the fight. Then after I got cut, that kinda worried me because I was thinking, 'They would stop the fight' and I didn't want them to stop the fight. So that's why the whole game plan changed and I had to put pressure, make a totally different fight."

From the middle rounds forward, Mares just steadily went to work, while Darchinyan just kept complaining more and more to referee Robert Howard. Mares scored his own knockdown in the seventh and just plain outhustled Darchinyan down the stretch to win via split decision by the scores of 113-112 and 115-111 while Darchinyan won over judge Glen Hamada at 115-111.

It's one thing to beat a formidable foe but it's something else to do it in the manner Mares did, where he had to grit his teeth and come from behind the way he did. His manager, Frank Espinoza, told Maxboxing, "I believe after winning the Vic Darchinyan fight that his mentality and confidence went up another 30 percent." This fight came on the heels of Mares’ tough luck draw against Yonnhy Perez for the IBF title last May, which was his initial title opportunity.

At age 25, in his physical prime, Mares is now a seasoned and hardened fighter. He admits that these experiences have made him psychologically tougher and more confident. "Just winning a fight gives you that confidence and especially against a fighter such as Vic Darchinyan," he says. "He's beaten pretty much all the Mexicans. I'm the first Mexican to beat him and definitely it gave me a boost as far as mentality and physically; I think it just gave me motivation." Espinoza adds, "I've seen it in his work ethic, the way he's determined, his confidence, the way he's focused in the gym. There's no question about it; this has really gone to another plateau for Abner."

He'll have to be because on the same night in Tacoma, Agbeko opened some eyes by reversing his first encounter with Perez with a series of adjustments that riddled the strong Colombian over 12 rounds. He showed that by employing movement and quick, well-timed right hands over the top, that he's more than just a one-trick “King Kong.” In their first meeting on Halloween in 2009, Agbeko tried to grind it out with Perez; the second time around he simply outfoxed him.

Mares is impressed by how Agbeko threw a change-up at Perez.

"Definitely, he truly amazed me because I didn't think he had that in him. I thought he was just a forward fighter. I thought it was going to be a replay of the first fight, a toe-to-toe war fight. But Agbeko, he came in there and he showed different things. He boxed; he hit; he countered; he moved and he surprised me," Mares admitted. "He showed a lot and that's why we really don't know what game plan he's going to go in there with when he fights me. I don't know if he's going to come in as a boxer or as a brawler but either way, I think both of us have a variety of styles so it's going to be a chess game."

There's no doubt that Mares will have to be adaptable in there. The problem that Perez had was that not only was he one-dimensional; he never changed his own tempo or speed, making him particularly easy to time. His repetitiveness in the ring made him an easy puzzle to solve. Mares understands that he must shuffle the deck at times and not just react to what Agbeko does but be proactive in changing up his own approach.

"I gotta switch things in there," he states. "I can't stick to one thing, [Agbeko]'s a smart fighter and he can adapt to any style, I think. So I gotta change styles in-between rounds. It's going to be a great fight. It's going to come down to the smarter fighter."

You can just envision a tactical fight which will eventually turn into a dogfight at times, where both men will take turns taking the lead and then adapt on the fly, making quick decisions based on what they feel is successful. While all this is taking place, a few punches will be hurled at each other. Both Mares and Agbeko will walk a fine line between aggression and discipline.

"I think so; it all depends. We all know styles make fights. If he comes as a boxer and I'm going to have to follow him, it's going to come out to whoever puts pressure," said Mares, "but if he goes in there brawling, I'll box. It all depends on the style he brings in but at the end of the night, who's the smarter fighter will take this fight."

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