Abner Mares isn't afraid to bleed to exact punishment, which he may need to do again Saturday.
It may not be the fight that you’ve heard the most about heading into this weekend at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but the WBC featherweight title showdown between veteran champion Daniel Ponce De Leon and division newcomer Abner Mares has a chance to be Saturday’s best.
The 32-year-old champion makes his initial defense of the belt he won from Jhonny Gonzalez in September in Nevada, while Mares rises from a career previously spent winning championships at both 118 and 122 pounds.
His last appearance was in November at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where he won eight of 12 rounds on all three cards against fellow former two-division champion Anselmo Moreno.
For a look at what each man needs to do this weekend, click Begin Slideshow.
PONCE DE LEON
|126 pounds||WEIGHT||126 pounds|
|70 inches||REACH||66 inches|
|122 (WBO), 126 (WBC)||TITLES WON||118 (IBF, IBO), 122 (WBC)|
Mares (left) has a championship pedigree after twice defeating top-shelf bantamweight claimant Joseph Agbeko.
Though Ponce De Leon is a legitimate pro with respectable credentials, the bout is generally considered an entryway for Mares—a prize Golden Boy Promotions possession—into the featherweight ranks after he’d already conquered all available foes at 118 and 122 pounds.
A penchant for volume body punching, rather than stunning one-punch KOs, has been Mares’ signature through the duration of his time on the big stage, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that approach can have the same impact on a durable, sturdy older foe.
Ponce De Leon has some pop of his own, as 35 knockouts in 44 wins illustrates. He's fallen short against each of the three best opponents he’s faced—including Juan Manuel Lopez at 122 (TKO by 1) and both Adrien Broner (UD 10) and Yuriorkis Gamboa (TD 8) at 130.
Ponce De Leon, a Mexican-American, rebounded from losses at 130 pounds to win a championship at featherweight.
Daniel Ponce De Leon: The memorable one-round blowout loss against Lopez notwithstanding, Ponce De Leon is a gutty and dangerous foe with significant experience against bigger men than Mares and the ferocity to wade into what may become a trenches battle Saturday night.
If he can earn Mares’ respect with a few early shots, it may alter the challenger’s game plan enough to temper his ribcage appetite and open some doors for the incumbent.
Abner Mares: Any critique of the 27-year-old would be empty without repeated references to his bodywork, which has sapped the will of five consecutive reigning or former champions—Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko (twice), Eric Morel and Anselmo Moreno—in five straight fights.
But, rather than a powerful caveman cut from Balboa cloth, Mares is able to work his way in with minimal incoming punishment, and, once there, is difficult to sway from the objective.
Daniel Ponce De Leon: Though Ponce De Leon is sturdy and brave and all the rest of those things, he’s surely not the sort of dynamic force he’s encountered against the aforementioned conquerors at 122 and 130. He can be outslicked and outgunned, depending on the opponent.
Fortunately for him, Mares is far more a workman than a wonder, which means it’s likely to be a war of attrition than a test of sublime skills—which suits him better.
Abner Mares: If Mares were both a voracious body-puncher and a one-punch knockout artist, the category discussing his weaknesses would be almost unnecessary. The truth, though, is that he needs to work in volume in order to accentuate his positives, which leaves him in harm’s way.
He was on the floor against Darchinyan and cut in both his wins over Agbeko, which means the 12 rounds with Ponce De Leon are likely to include at least some adversity.
Ponce De Leon will need to punish Mares as his challenger wades in to throw his signature body punches.
He’s able to land some game-changing shots in the opening rounds, force Mares to back off the attack by a couple of gears and match his volume from round to round en route to a victory on the scorecards.
Because Mares has been knocked down in the past and Ponce De Leon has significant pop, the champion would be best served by giving the challenger a dose of his own medicine and forcing the fight from the outset rather than reacting to the other man's leads.
Doing so will both blunt Mares' customary momentum and impact his confidence, along with changing the in-ring dynamic for the scoring judges, who may be expecting a certain pattern of give-and-take based on past tendencies.
Mares has an older, slower man in front of him in Ponce De Leon, and may be able to use his youthful work rate toward an overwhelming win.
He simply does what he does best, puts his work ethic to use, eludes enough opposition fire to reach the pocket and then wails away on Ponce De Leon’s ribs and liver until he’s either overwhelmed inside the distance or outgunned at ringside.
Getting on the body within the first few rounds will not only establish a pattern of work that the fight can subsequently follow, but an early onslaught will also go a long way toward planting seeds of doubt in an older champion with a history of losing to younger men.
With five straight 12-round victories over champions, stamina for Mares is nary an issue. Additionally, the quicker Mares takes the lead, the less likely he is to be upended on a technicality if another cut is opened and the fight ends prematurely.
He's younger, he's faster and he's busier...and by the end of Saturday night, Abner Mares will be the WBC's featherweight champion.
It’s a showcase event for Mares, but it might not be an easy coronation. The younger man should be faster and busier through the majority of the rounds, but the margin for error as he takes blows from a guy with a 79.5 KO percentage isn’t as great.
Because he's got a history of hitting the canvas and of tasting his own blood on the way to success, there's a very good chance that Mares will have a round or two of adversity. But, danger notwithstanding, the level of acumen he's shown in previous wins should bridge any unexpected gaps here.
No matter the scenario at the halfway mark, expect Mares to have enough to get through the rough spots—as has been his M.O. in the past—and earn another weight-class belt with a competitive but clear-cut unanimous decision: 116-112, or 8-4 in rounds.