When Mares won the bantamweight tournament against Joseph Agbeko in a decisive rematch of their controversial first fight, it was the same night as Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II. Consequently, the win might have been overshadowed just a hair. While November 10 does feature an HBO fight card between Vanes Martirosyan and Erislandy Lara, hardcore fans are anticipating this one with bated breath. Mares gets to headline Staples Center in the heart of downtown. For a Mexican fighter who grew up in L.A., that’s a dream come true right there.
“The last time I fought here at the Honda Center [in Anaheim, CA. against Agbeko], it was great seeing family members, friends. For this fight, it’s going to be even greater at the Staples Center. I am really excited,” said Mares. “More people are talking about me and this fight. This is a fight that boxing fans were asking for. I am looking forward to this and fighting in front of that crowd.”
In Anselmo Moreno, Mares could not be picking a tougher fighter as a first defense. As Mares put it later in our conversation, this is a fight fan’s fight. At 5’6½” with a 69½” reach, Moreno, a southpaw out of Panama, is a bit of style nightmare. On top of his superior physical dimensions and odd lefty style, he is defensively gifted. Moreno can stay in the pocket much the way Pernell Whitaker could and make you miss by inches. While not exactly an offensive juggernaut with just 12 knockouts against 33 wins, one loss and a draw, Moreno is the definition of “make you miss and make you pay.”
So how does one prepare for that?
“First we find sparring that can replicate somewhat [Moreno]’s style, the way he moves, the kind of punches he throws and work from there,” explained Mares. “My coaches have the game plan. I am really looking forward to this fight. Like you said, he has a really unique boxing style. He is a really good boxer. He is a technical fighter but, at the same time, he can stand there and trade punches. It’s interesting that we are getting ready for a technical, really great fighter. I go with excitement for each fight that I have.”
I asked what makes Moreno unique in Mares’ eyes.
“One thing, he doesn’t throw that much and he makes you miss a lot,” he answered. “I mean, he is a guy that just waits for you to make a mistake and then he counters. He is not a fast fighter either. He is pretty slow actually but when he throws back, he hits you right where he wants to hit you. And again, like you said, he does fight like Pernell Whitaker. There are similarities. He is a great fighter. He is a really technical fighter. I am looking forward to fighting any style and somehow managing to overcome whatever he is bringing in.”
With so few knockouts, you’d think opponents would just walk through the finesse style of Moreno using sheer aggression. Or considering Moreno’s low offensive output, if one were simply steady in his offense, the judges might just award him the win on volume.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but at the same time, he is not someone I am comfortable with just going in.” Mares countered. “You can’t just move forward with this guy. This guy makes you pay. You lunge in and then you miss. So you’ve got to be careful when you go in and try to go for the body. He doesn’t throw a lot of heat but really picks his punches. Anselmo Moreno - and I am not going to say what it is but I feel we have the perfect game plan for this guy. Come November 10, we are going to work it.”
If there is anything to worry about with Moreno, it’s not his punching power. It’s his ability to make you miss all night while scoring on you at will. I brought up the idea that a fighter could miss all night and be tired in the back end of the fight vs. worrying about missing and walking into a brutal KO punch. Was that a concern?
“My concern more than anything…now that you mention it, you’re making me think of something to be worried about. But really, I am not at all. I never think, ‘What if?’ You have to be ready for anything but you can’t walk in there with a ‘What if.’ No, no, no. You have to walk in there with, “Yes, this going to be a tough fight. Yes, this guy is a good fighter but I know I can beat him.’ You can’t win all of your fights just for being good. That’s one thing. He is good. He is in great condition but he has never faced an Abner Mares. So I am just going in there to get him out of his game plan, make it an ugly fight if I have to, get that ‘W’ and keep on going forward.”
Mares has faced some of the toughest bantamweights in the world over the past two years. Beyond their toughness, they showed a variety of styles. In particular, one of them was a southpaw named Vic Darchinyan. Mares has only faced one other southpaw in his pro career (Diosdado Gabi, TKO 2) though many in the amateurs. While Moreno is also a lefty, the way he uses his stance is completely different from any lefty Mares has faced. However, there is one tactic that might work with Moreno.
“Well, normally [Darchinyan] is the bully but when I fought him, I was trying to be the bully against him. It kind of worked because I pushed and made him pull back,” said Mares who was clearly still mentally in the ring. I could hear him thinking of tactics as we talked.
“You know, it made him really uncomfortable. That’s one of the things that I am going to do against [Moreno] is make him feel uncomfortable. If I have to, I will make it an ugly fight,” Mares laughed, “as long as I get that W.”
What Mares brings to bear in this fight, besides a solid all-around skill set that can go from brawling to boxing, is experience. He has been in with the top men in his former division. He came to super bantamweight and promptly beat a former champ in Eric Morel to secure a vacant belt at 122 pounds. If Moreno is the style problem, Mares’ experience should be able to carry him through the rough patches.
“Pretty much everything out there from the amateurs to now, fighting ex-champions and current champions, [has prepared me for this]. Obviously I am bringing in the experience but at the same time, I am just excited that I am going in against this great talented fighter with a difficult style. That’s what fills me up, knowing that I can beat this guy. I know I can. Just figuring out his style and his own game, I am just looking forward to this fight,” said Mares.
Another valuable facet of Mares’ game is its aforementioned diversity. He has no problem changing tactics when something is not working.
“Like you mentioned, we definitely have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. We don’t know if it’s going to work and if it doesn’t, we have to switch it,” Mares said simply. “That’s one of the things that people know about me is that I can change from one bout to the next, one round to the next round. So definitely we will be changing things up November 10.”
One thing Mares and trainer Clemente Medina do is change out sparring for each fight. Mares and his team don’t want him becoming familiar with his sparring partners thus complacent. As for the game plan, how it develops depends on the camp.
“It depends on the camp. I am not the type of guy that looks at tape. I let my coaches do that,” Mares explained. “They tell me what he does and what he throws and how does he defend. And they bring the sparring partners and tell them, ‘Hey, these are the punches he throws, what he likes,’ and so on and so on. I just go in and spar and if I am doing well in the sparring, then I definitely think we are getting somewhere. Our sparring partners are really good. I feel really comfortable.”
And adjusting to the southpaw style, complete with its odd footing and potential for headbutts?
“I thought I would be uncomfortable fighting a southpaw again. It’s always difficult fighting a southpaw to begin with but I am feeling comfortable,” said Mares. “But again, it is my third week sparring. I sparred six rounds. I felt good. I felt strong. If we stick to our game plan, we’ll be OK.”
Preparation is most everything. The rest is confidence with a dash of luck. Thus far, Mares has had all of the above. Moreno is enough of a problem that on November 10, Mares has his biggest chance yet to go from being a top fighter to a class higher.
“I am going to be ready like always,” said Mares. “I am ready to win. That’s all I can say. Ready to win and keep on fighting these toughs fights facing great fighters. Just keep on moving forward.”
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
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