Featherweights lay it all on the line as three-weight division champion Abner Mares challenges 126-pound titleholder Jesus Cuellar, broadcasted live from the Galen Center in southern California, on Showtime. Abner finds himself in a make-or-break situation for the first time of an impressive career. Cuellar gets a chance to put a stamp on the resume and raise his profile significantly ensuring even bigger fights at featherweight or junior lightweight in the near future.
Abner Mares never ran from a challenge, and from his first world title shot, set the tone as a true professional at the bantamweight division. From 2010 to 2013, excluding Carl Froch, no one in the world fought a more challenging schedule full of quality opponents then Abner Mares. The list includes the likes of Yohnny Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko (twice), Anselmo Moreno, & Ponce De Leon all in a string of entertaining brawls.
Johnny Gonzalez’s left hook put an abrupt halt to Abner’s upward trajectory on an August night in the summer of 2013. That card was supposed to be a prelude to help promote a major fight in the Los Angeles area between Mares and Leo Santa Cruz. The grizzled-vet caught Mares cold in the first round with a left hook disguised as a body shot, Gonzalez turned the punch into a head shot that landed right on the button.
Mares took some time off eventually managed to get his feet back underneath him to rebuild a once promising career. Just over two years later, Abner found himself back in the spotlight once again against Leo Santa Cruz in August 2015 on ESPN. Mares fought admirably in a losing effort in a spirited fight that drew over 13,000 fans to the Staples Center, no small feat considering it was headlined by 126-pounders.
Forced to rebuild yet again, Abner found comfort in matching up with top-flight trainer Robert Garcia in Oxnard, CA. Mares and Cuellar were all set to fight in June as the co-feature to Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter on CBS. Mares failed a very strict eye-test from the New York athletic commission causing the bout to be postponed. Now together for three separate training camps, Mares and Garcia are focused on rejuvenating the featherweight’s status in the sport.
Jesus Cuellar’s last loss came against solid prospect Oscar Escandon in 2011, who like Jesus was undefeated at the time. The style Cuellar fought with 5 years ago is the polar opposite of what his title run has consisted of lately. Instead of being the aggressor, Cuellar worked mostly off the back foot, often found his way to the ropes by Escandon’s pressure.
Ironically, looking to regroup Jesus found Robert Garcia, a relationship that lasted around 2 years. In those five bouts Cuellar captured a belt and made four defenses under the tutelage of Garcia. Cuellar fought with a more aggressive style scoring knockouts on his way to a date with Abner Mares. For reasons few really know, Cuellar left Robert Garcia and will now be trained by the legendary Freddy Roach, giving the style it would seem to be a good match for both on the surface.
Breaking down how this puncher versus boxer/puncher matchup will play out is not that complicated in what should be a very competitive scrap were both men will at the very least be hurt, if not dropped. Beyond a minor feel-out few minutes look for Saturday’s main event to feature an up-tempo pace. In fact I’d be surprised if one or both boxers don’t get buzzed within the first 3 or 4 rounds. Mares got stopped early and Cuellar has a habit of getting hurt by lesser opponents meaning either man will likely hit the canvas.
Mares won’t be his old throw-caution-to-the-wind self, instead a bit craftier as was the case in his victory against Daniel Ponce De Leon. That may have been the best overall performance of Abner’s career fighting with a tactical game plan instead of face-first recklessness. Mixing in movement and looking to time Cuellar bull-rushing forward would be a recipe for success. When Mares does fight on the inside using the jab will be a key, once all the way, Mares must stick to his bread and butter body punching. As long as Abner remains all the way in or all the way outside looking to counter, he should come out ahead on the scorecards.
There’s no real secret for what Jesus Cuellar and Freddie Roach want to accomplish inside the squared-circle. Jesus will attempt to pressure Mares in order to the force him to the ropes. The left hand will be locked and loaded as always, and Cuellar loves to loop his overhand left at the target. In a midweek presser, Freddie Roach was quoted claiming his favorite punch of Cuellar’s is the right hook. So maybe Mares will be looking to time Jesus’s potent left and get caught with a right hook in the process.
Cuellar & Mares both have decent jabs and usually in the pick’em type matchups the guy that uses his jab effectively tends to land the cleaner punch. After a couple of troubled moments, Mares will begin to figure out what works best against the hard punching Argentine. The only reason why Mares gets his hand raised will be his overall skill as the more complete fighter. If Abner shows any clear signs of being over the hill, the young champion will feast on his prey.
My official prediction is Abner Mares by Split-Decision.
Side Note: Don’t forget to set your DVR’s on the HBO Tripleheader featuring Terence Crawford vs. John Molina in the main event. The HBO broadcast includes coverage from New Zealand for Joseph Parker vs. Andy Ruiz and the co-feature Raymund Beltran vs. Mason Menard.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of the Rope A Dope Radio Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio or Subscribe on iTunes. Visit The Rope A Dope Report YouTube Channel & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio