Photos by Sumio Yamada
ABNER MARES vs ANSELMO MORENO
The tough bouts just keep on coming for Abner Mares. Mares has lately overcome a series of difficult, dangerous opponents to remain undefeated, and tonight in Los Angeles he faces perhaps the most daunting adversary of all in Anselmo Moreno, the seasoned and highly skilled southpaw from Panama.
This Showtime main event is as intriguing as it gets. Mexican-American Mares, who defends his WBC 122-pound belt, will be the crowd favourite at the Staples Center. Moreno, though, has boxed frequently on the other man’s home territory, having won title bouts in France, Venezuela and Germany.
While Mares has won 24 and drawn one of 25 bouts, Moreno has lost just once in 33 contests — and that was a four-round split decision a decade ago.
Moreno has won 11 world title fights in the bantamweight division, going back to 2008; Mares was 3-0-1 in bantamweight title bouts before stepping up to the super bantam division to outclass veteran Eric Morel for the vacant WBC title in his last fight.
If you like smart, fast-paced, intelligent boxing and a battle of wits as well as wills, then Mares against Moreno is your type of fight.
Moreno has been winning at top level for so long it is surprising that he is only 27, just a year older than Mares. A look at Moreno’s record shows four wins by split decision, but one of his great strengths is the ability, in a desperately close contest, to step up the level of his fighting and do enough to sway the scoring in his direction.
There aren’t many better technicians than Moreno. In one of his fights I made the note that he was “almost Wilfred Benitez-like” in the way he avoided punches when pinned on the ropes. Moreno is extremely elusive; it seems that he seldom gets hit by a clean shot. He sways and rolls away from punches, frustrating his opponents by making them miss, then hitting them before they know what is happening. Moreno is so relaxed that his boxing can take on an effortless quality. Just 12 stoppage wins suggest that he isn’t much of a puncher, but Moreno hits hard enough to get respect. Moreno has a toughness about him, too —Vic Darchinyan, as rough a handful as there is in boxing, was unable to bully Moreno.
So, Moreno is exceptionally difficult to beat. Mares, though, might be the man to do it.
Mares is a sturdy, self-possessed, boxer-fighter. He showed his potential when boxing for Mexico as an 18-year-old in the Athens Olympics. Although Mares lost to the more experienced Hungarian, Pal Bedak, in his opening bout he impressed in the way he came on strongly after a slow start. Bedak got more points on the electronic scoring system but Mares was clearly the fighter with the style far better suited to professional boxing.
While Mares hasn’t had as many professional bouts as Moreno, he has passed some searching examinations. His bouts with Yohnny Perez and Vic Darchinyan, and the two with Joseph Agbeko, were tough, difficult fights. Mares came off the floor to eke out the narrow win over Darchinyan; he came from behind against Perez and really looked unlucky to have to settle for a draw, having hurt the Colombian fighter to the body in a seemingly decisive late-rounds onslaught. Mares’s first fight with Agbeko was a punishing affair, marred by the low blows Mares landed, but he soundly outpointed the highly capable Ghanaian fighter in the rematch despite suffering a cut over the right eye as early as the second round. A bloodied Mares outboxed and even outfought Agbeko — it was a masterful performance.
Moreno has staved off pressure fighters such as the French-Iranian buzzsaw Mahyar Monshipour, the tenacious Wladimir Sidorenko and the busy Nehomar Cermeno, but the judges were divided in these fights because while Moreno was poised and sought to be punch-perfect the other man often seemed to be fighting that much harder and simply giving more of himself.
The judges could be faced with some tight rounds to score tonight, and it would not be astonishing to see a difference of interpretation in the way rounds are scored.
When the fight was first announced I initially leaned towards Moreno, but with the fight at hand I am edging more towards Mares. I get the impression that we might not have seen the absolute best of Mares just yet. Indeed, in comments to the media Mares promised that we would be seeing “a more mature, focused and ready Abner than you ever have seen before”.
If Moreno is allowed to dictate the terms of the contest and box at a distance and pace of his liking, then Moreno will win. Mares is well aware of this and his strategy will be centred on taking Moreno out of his stride and making the fight uncomfortable for his opponent.
I think we will see Mares applying intelligent pressure, moving in with his hands up and looking to get off with quick bursts of punches when he has closed the gap between himself and his opponent. Moreno’s classy shots will score points but punch-volume and hand-speed can offset the artistry of a Moreno-type stylist.
Really, the bout will be decided on which boxer can impose his style on his opponent, to the satisfaction of the judges. It’s a fight that could go either way but I think that Mares has the ingredients in his boxing — the smarts, the speed of punch and the steadiness — to pull out a narrow victory.