In the end, it was just as exciting as we assumed it would be.
Abner Mares stepped up in weight once again, and once again he came out victorious. This time, he moved up to featherweight to challenge hard-hitting but defensively challenged Daniel Ponce De Leon. It was an all-action affair as promised, with Mares landing the more effective punches. But what do we make of this stoppage victory? Is he as good as he looked tonight, or was Ponce De Leon a perfect matchup for Mares?
One thing was clear after the win—Mares proved he can take a punch at 126. He took Ponce De Leon's best left hands and seemed unfazed. As good as Mares is, every fighter runs the risk of being drilled as he climbs up in weight. In this case, Mares took on one of the hardest hitting punchers from 122-130, and he passed the test with flying colors. Not only did he take the shots well, but in typical Mares fashion, he gave back better than he received.
With the performance he gave, Mares proved that he should now be considered one of the best fighters in the world. His arch rival and top-ten pound-for-pound fighter Nonito Donaire was taken to school by another excellent fighter, Guillermo Rigondeaux last month. Ponce De Leon is certainly no Rigondeaux, but he's a tough out for anybody, especially for a fighter jumping to his third weight class in a year-and-a-half. Average Joe's don't do things like that. It takes a special fighter to gleefully jump up the scales and continue his dominance. Mares is on Donaire's level. It speaks to the sad state of affairs between Top Rank and Golden Boy that we may never get to see just who is better.
Punching power certainly won't be a problem for Mares at 126. Again, Ponce De Leon is quite limited defensively and he squares himself up so much that he is often quite vulnerable to dangerous counter punches. But as vulnerable as he is, the only man before Mares to stop him was explosive puncher (and fellow defense hater) Juan Manuel Lopez. Gamboa couldn't stop him. Not only did Ponce De Leon stand up to Adrien Broner's attack, but many felt he beat him. Mares drilled Ponce De Leon with a left hook that he threw from about the 10th row to set up the first knockdown and then slammed him with a counter right to drop him in the ninth. These were heavy, forceful shots meant to incapacitate. They worked.
When a fighter wins a fight by stoppage, one tends to overlook some of the negatives. And why not? Mares was offensively spectacular. But he wasn't without some slip-ups. Bottom line—there is still work to be done. Mares has never been brilliant defensively, but he boxes well enough and he throws enough punches that he usually avoids problems. In this fight, it seemed for a stretch that Mares was hit cleanly a bit more than was necessary, especially as the fight wore on. It seemed that Mares slowed down ever so slightly in the middle rounds. For a time. he seemed somewhat tired. He stopped throwing combinations and a few punches that Ponce De Leon landed bothered Mares a bit.
The good news is that those things are fixable problems. Mares will grow more comfortable as a featherweight the longer he's in the division, so his stamina shouldn't be an issue. Also, he just handled one of the better punchers in the division, so we can comfortably assume that he'll be fine against anybody else.
Above all else, Abner Mares undoubtedly proved that he is an absolute force to be reckoned with in the featherweight division. As fight fans, we'll be able to watch this outstanding fighter continue his climb up the ranks. If the aforementioned feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy ever gets settled, we can drool over prospective matches with Mikey Garcia, Juan Ma Lopez, or hopefully at long last, Nonito Donaire.
Regardless of opponent, Mares continues to show the world that he's as exciting as anyone out there today.