Before Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez engage in the fourth chapter of their epic rivalry, kicking off the Showtime broadcast on Saturday night from the Staples Center in Los Angeles (9 PM, ET/PT) is the fight between IBF bantamweight titlist, Yonnhy Perez and challenger Abner Mares. This is a rivalry of its own.
As it turns out, they had faced each other in the amateur ranks, with Mares winning two out of their three meetings.
"I remember they were tough fights, really hard," recalled Mares on Tuesday afternoon from the Fortune Gym in Hollywood, where he participated in a media day to promote this weekend’s fight card. "I’ve always said that they were the type of fights where the audience was up on their feet cheering for us. They were exciting fights. This fight won’t be the exception; it will be an exciting fight."
Most pundits regard Perez as the much more seasoned and experienced fighter, even though he and Mares both have exactly 20 professional fights to their credit. But the Colombian, who at 31 years of age, is seven years the senior of Mares, is much more battled-tested at the world-class level, having beaten the likes of Silence Mabuza and Joseph Agbeko in the past year. But it’s the fact that they are so familiar with Perez that has emboldened Mares and his camp to pull the trigger on this fight. Adding to the intrigue is that Mares’ father has managerial rights to Perez. The two don’t see eye-to-eye, reportedly. Also, Mares’ trainer has worked with Perez in the past.
Joel Diaz, told Maxboxing, "I know Yonnhy Perez; as a matter of fact, I helped him in his title fight [against Agbeko]. They called me to help them out in the corner for that fight. I’ve known Yonnhy Perez for a long time because he’s promoted by Thompson Boxing and I’ve had a lot of fights there and I’ve helped Yonnhy in recent fights. I know a lot of his weaknesses."
While they respect Perez’ toughness and grit, they also believe that they are more versatile.
"I think so," said Mares, "I think Yonnhy, we’ve seen only one style with him. I don’t think he can bring anything else. We’re ready for anything that he can bring for this fight." Diaz says of Perez, "You got a fighter who moves forward, very robotic and, at the same time, you got Abner, who has faster movement. Yonnhy’s not going to be able to find him and I know what damage Abner can do with his punches."
But Perez has done some swimming in rough waters; Mares, really hasn’t thus far. In fact, this reporter had forgotten if he had ever gone 12 rounds in a fight. When asked about this lack of seasoning, he pointed out, "I have gone 12 rounds; I’m going to correct you there. With Damian Marchiano, I went 12 rounds there. So before he [Perez] had faced Mabuza, he hadn’t gone 12 rounds and he proved that he could go and knocked him out in the 12th round. A lot of people are going off Yonnhy’s last two fights, which I understand; those were good fights with two tough opponents and he beat them. But he’s facing Abner Mares, now. He’s not facing Agbeko."
Usually, when a young fighter goes for his first major world title, he tries to pick a soft spot. Unfortunately, the bantamweight division didn’t offer that. For a while, it seemed as though he would get a crack at a vacant WBC title, before then-champion, Hozumi Hasagawa (who was recently dethroned by Fernando Montiel) dragged his feet and decided not to move up in weight. His respected manager, Frank Espinoza, took a calculated risk in fighting for the title in their backyard, instead of going overseas.
"There was no question," said Espinoza. "This is where he’s from; it’s his hometown. Why not? There’s no better place than Los Angeles and the Staples Center." He also had a fighter who believed, like former football coach, George Allen, that the future was now. "He felt that it was his time. I believe he’s just one fight away from being a Mexican icon. I think he has all the ability; he’s very charismatic. He’s a good person inside and out of the ring. So I think it’s time."
Perez is the ultimate grinder, a man who brings his hard hat and lunch pail to work with him every single day. And while Mares- who represented Mexico in the 2004 Olympics- might have more natural ability, there is still a bit of an unknown surrounding him.
Diaz thinks he has a boxer who will rise to the occasion and will only get better as Perez turns on the heat in the later stages. "Abner, as a matter of fact, he gets stronger in the later rounds than in the early rounds. I can see it in the training. Just having him spar Vicente Escobedo, I can see the difference in Abner. He had a lot of resistance. After the fifth round, he starts getting stronger. In the beginning, he starts a little slow because he’s barely warming up. But he’s stronger in the later rounds." And he’ll perform at a higher level against superior fighters, according to his trainer, who also works with Tim Bradley, Escobedo and his brother, Julio. "Definitely; that’s what he does. Abner Mares fights at the level of his opposition. That’s what makes him. I think this fight right here, it’s not going to be as bad as people think."
Mares believes he is more than ready for this opportunity.
"I had a lot of amateur fights and not only did I have a lot of amateur fights, I fought most of those good fighters that are out there as amateurs. So I was getting anxious to get a world title last year. It didn’t happen because of my eye. But things happen for a reason; I think now I’m more mature, as far as age and body. I think my powers are a little heavier.
"Come May 22nd, it’s just going to be fireworks."
To get full coverage of “Once and Four All,” log onto: www.maxboxing.com/max-access
There you can see a special edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly where we break down Vazquez-Marquez IV.
Also, it you log onto: www.twitter.com/Maxboxinglive where will have live, round-by-round updates of this Showtime telecast on Saturday night.
BLACK MAMBA FLURRIES
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