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Toughened Mares Aims For Agbeko, Title

Glax0r's Photo Glax0r 12 Aug 2011

Toughened Mares aims for Agbeko, bantamweight tournament title
By Bob Velin, USA TODAY

The moment of truth for a young boxer often comes when he faces adversity in the ring for the first time.

How does he handle being knocked down or suffering a cut that causes blood to flow into his eye and impairs his vision?

That moment for Abner Mares came early in his bantamweight tournament semifinal bout against former champion Vic Darchinyan in December.

Mares, then 24, was knocked down for the first time in his career in the second round. Then an accidental head butt opened a gash over his right eye that bled continuously. To make matter worse, he was docked a point by the referee for low blows.

It was Mares' moment of truth. Suck it up and fight on, or complain that he can't see and quit on his stool. The bloodied Mares took the high road, knocking Darchinyan down a few rounds later, then went on to win by split decision in what he called the toughest fight of his career.

When he went down, Mares said, the first thought that came to his mind was the great Juan Manuel Marquez, who rose from three knockdowns in the first round against Manny Pacquiao in 2004, and went on to a draw.

"Everything happened in (theDarchinyan) fight," Mares said by phone this week. "My first knockdown, I got head-butted; I got cut; I got blood in my eye; there was a point taken away from me. The first couple of rounds was not going my way. I learned a whole lot (in my) hardest fight ever. I was fighting a guy that could punch, has heavy hands, and I felt it. Overall, the whole 12 rounds were excitement and (they were) hard, But I walked out with the victory, and that was more satisfying than anything."

If Mares proved one thing besides performing under adverse conditions against Darchinyan, it was that he has a good enough chin to take everything a heavy-handed fighter like Darchinyan can dish out.

"Obviously, I'm not looking at it like, 'I hope I proved (I have a chin)' because I'm not trying to get hit during a fight," he said. "but I did eat a lot of lefts, got hit by a heavy-handed guy. He does hit hard, but I just walked through them. God gave me the strength to keep going, and we won."

That put him in the tournament final against Joseph Agbeko, but more adversity followed. Three days before their fight was scheduled in April, Agbeko pulled out after suffering from sciatica because of his long flight. The fight was postponed until Agbeko recovered. Mares (21-0-1, 13 KOs) and IBF champion Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) will finally square off Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET).

Mares, who lives in Montebello, Calif., was frustrated and angered by the postponement, but instead of complaining, he took some time off, restarted his training camp in his birthplace of Guadalajara, Mexico, switched gyms when he returned to the U.S., and "changed everything."

To make up for the long layoff, he sparred as much as he could. "I've been feeling good, looking good and I just can't wait," he said.

Agbeko, he believes, is ready to fight.

"He recovered really fast, I was surprised, actually," Mares said. "I'm happy for him that he was able to return to something he likes to do, which is boxing. I try not to think of (his injury) because that will weaken me mentally. I try to think that he's a normal athlete, he trained hard and I know he's ready for this fight. I will expect a tough Agbeko for that night."

Agbeko is miffed bythe fact that he is nearly a 2-1 underdog coming into the fight. "I don't understand why (Mares) is the favorite," he said during the final press conference Thursday. "I'm the champion. I just want a fair fight.''

Staying unbeaten would be nice, Mares said, but he doesn't dwell on his zero. "I want to be remembered not as a fighter that was unbeaten, but as a fighter who fought the best," he said. "I know I'm going in against a world champion in Agbeko, and I want to keep facing nothing but the best."

Should he prevail against Agbeko, Mares sees plenty of good fights to be made down the road at 118 pounds, namely Fernando Montiel, Anselmo Moreno and the guy who many feel is the best bantamweight out there, Nonito Donaire.

Donaire, of course, recently re-signed with Top Rank after a disastrous attempt to jump to Golden Boy, which handles Mares. It ended up in court, and Top Rank retained Donaire's rights.

Given the past hostility between the sport's biggest promoters, going back to a tug-of-war over pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who remains with Top Rank, Mares was asked if a fight could be made with Donaire.

"I think so," Mares said. "Golden Boy and Top Rank have had their differences, but they have started working them out, and it's only right, for the sake of boxing, because those are fights that fans want to watch. It's not just for the fighters.

"Hopefully we can make such a fight happen, but first we have to take care of business on the 13th.

"I am totally ready for this. There's no way I can lose. The thought of defeat is not in my mind. I am ready for a war."