When Abner Mares stopped Daniel Ponce de Leon in the ninth round of their excellent fight on the undercard of Mayweather vs. Guerrero, he made plenty of new fans. If you knew of Mares before the fight, it was most likely because of the Showtime bantamweight tournament from a couple of years ago.
In that tournament, he battled through stiff competition ranging from brawler Vic Darchinyan to the indefatigable boxer/puncher Joseph Agbeko.
He emerged victorious and forged ahead, fighting on Showtime and gradually rising up the ranks of boxing's best fighters. His relentless, attacking style is as pleasing on the eyes as Megan Fox in a bikini, and his affable personality and modesty are refreshing for a fighter.
So how does he go from undercard stalwart to pay-per-view headliner? It's a difficult road to cross. Very few fighters become big attractions, especially those in the smaller weight divisions. But it's not impossible.
Naseem Hamed kicked in the doors for the smaller guys, mostly by doing stuff like this. His antics led to guys like Manny Pacquiao getting noticed. Of course, Pacquiao took it to the ultimate level. Mares may never achieve that type of fame, but there's no doubt he can become a star.
He just needs to follow this blueprint to get there.
Mares has been building momentum since 2010, when the Showtime tournament began. He's fought eight times in three years, staying undefeated through brutal competition. He has to keep up the pace.
Once a fighter becomes a star, his fight rate drops, but Mares has a long way to go before he can afford to do that. He has to get into the ring as often as he can to build his fanbase card by card. He's only 27 years old, so he has plenty of time to do it. As long as he fights consistently, he won't fade from memory.
The media are fickle; they're always looking for the next big thing to emerge. If a fighter stays out of the ring for too long, it can crush any publicity he has earned.
James Kirkland seemed destined for stardom before being shelved with a lengthy prison sentence. He struggled to regain the momentum and then lost it again through injuries and pricing himself out of fights. His career is in serious jeopardy.
Gary Russell Jr. has elite talent, but he fights about as often as Sonny Liston does.
When Mares is in the ring, he's as compelling as any fighter alive. He shouldn't stray too far from it.
This shouldn't be to difficult for him—he's already a natural at it. He has all the right tools. He throws a ton of punches, doesn't tire easily and has a few entertaining shortcomings.
Flawed fighters are usually the most fun to watch. Mares gets hit, but he has a great chin. While it's not a great combination for his health and longevity, it's a fantastic combo for fight fans. He will fearlessly brawl with anyone across the ring from him.
He went straight after Darchinyan, who at one point was one of the most feared punchers in the sport, and he didn't back off an inch with Ponce de Leon, another serious banger.
And he got the better of both guys.
There's no reason to believe that Mares will change his fighting style—it has gotten him this far and is fun to watch. He is a fighter who craves action and doesn't mind getting hit.
Fight fans will always respect the skills of Guillermo Rigondeaux, but the odds of him leading a pay-per-card one day are about as good as seeing the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl soon.
We respect the skills, but we want the blood.
Mares gives it away for us, and he takes plenty as well.
While the cold war between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank looks like it will never end, we still hold out hope for a megafight between Mares and Nonito Donaire. Obviously, the odds of this fight happening aren't great, but if both fighters want it enough, it could get done.
Arturo Gatti had Micky Ward. Pacquiao had Erik Morales. Juan Manuel Marquez had Pacquiao.
Mares could use a dance partner.
While not entirely necessary, an epic fight or two certainly helps. Exciting fights lead to big revenue. The result? A boost to the star power of both fighters.
Mares doesn't have to fight Donaire in order for this to happen, but it would help if he got into a fight where the outcome is up in the air. Maybe it will be with Yuriorkis Gamboa, who currently resides at 130. Or, perhaps Leo Santa Cruz could move up in weight and engage Mares down the road.
The CompuBox motherboard is already short-circuiting over the prospect of that fight.
Regardless of who his partner is, if Mares can find a guy who can match him, the fans will win big. In the long run, he will too.
Want to win fans in a hurry? Score a few big knockouts. Mares hasn't been known for elite punching power, but he drilled Ponce de Leon last month. Doing that a few more times will make Mares a star.
Mares usually doesn't sit down on his punches. He prefers to fire flurries to his opponent's head and body as quickly as possible.
Maybe he felt the need to knock out Ponce de Leon, or perhaps he felt like he needed to bring more pain while moving up in weight. Either way, Mares threw every shot with bad intentions.
Was that a one-time deal, or is this a different Mares?
Most fighters who move up in weight lose a bit of their power. It's simple physics: Bigger fighters can take harder punches. But there are a few who not only bring that power with them, but they sometimes hit even harder. If Mares is one of the them, he would be in excellent shape heading into future fights.
He doesn't need to splatter every opponent on the canvas, but the boxing public likes a guy who ends fights early.
This one is obvious. You want to become a star attraction? Keep the winning streak alive. Now, Arturo Gatti would have something to say about this, but there was only one Gatti.
Mares' record stands at 26-0-1. He doesn't have to stay undefeated throughout his career to maintain stardom, but he has to keep winning to gain the stardom. He's an excellent fighter with a huge promoter, and he'll have every opportunity to prove that he's one of the best in the world.
He's probably somewhat limited in terms of jumping weight classes; he's only 5'4" with an average reach. But if he keeps winning, he won't have to move too far. Fighters will come to him.
If he keeps doing everything the way he has been, he may end up being boxing's next big star. The biggest draws in the sport are getting older, and they'll be gone before too long.
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez seems destined to be a monster attraction, but Mares might have a chance to carve his own legacy as another star.
There can never be too many.