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Abner Mares vs. Jonathan Oquendo: Preview, Prediction for Featherweight Bout

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2016

Abner Mares vs. Jonathan Oquendo: Preview, Prediction for Featherweight Bout

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    Abner Mares makes his return to the ring following an 11-month layoff on Saturday night, taking on Jonathan Oquendo on the undercard of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    Mares, a former three-division champion, was stunningly knocked out in one round by Jhonny Gonzalez last August, ceding his featherweight championship in a pretty significant upset.

    An injury forced him to postpone and ultimately cancel a scheduled rematch, and he’ll be making his first appearance under the tutelage of new trainer Virgil Hunter.

    Oquendo—a decent, but unspectacular, opponent—seems the perfect fit for a comeback fight. He’s been knocked out each of the two times he stepped up to face quality opposition, and it would be surprising if he upsets Mares.

    Read on for your complete preview and prediction for Mares vs. Oquendo.

Tale of the Tape

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     per BoxRec.comAbner MaresJonathan Oquendo
    Record26-1-1, 14 KO24-3, 16 KO
    Age2830
    Height5'4.5"5'4"
    Weight125.5 (last fight)123.5 (last fight)
    Reach66"67"
    StanceOrthodoxOrthodox
    HometownGuadalajara, Jalisco, MexicoBayamon, Puerto Rico
    Rounds203123
    Last FightKO by 1 Jhonny Gonzalez (Aug. 24, 2013)UD 12 Guillermo Avila (Mar. 14, 2014)

Main Storylines

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    Mares

    He is coming off his first career defeat, a stunning one-round knockout at the hands of veteran Jhonny Gonzalez last August, which cost him his share of the featherweight title. In boxing, losses often make fighters take stock to see what went wrong, and Mares has certainly done that.

    He’s switched managers, switched up his trainer—bringing in Virgil Hunter to aid him with his defense and counterpunching—and moved his training camp from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in California to limit distractions.

    Mares has been out of a boxing ring—at least in terms of facing live rounds—for nearly a year. Before the knockout, he was on the bullet train up the pound-for-pound ranks and on a collision course with fellow Mexican Leo Santa Cruz. But now, one stunning loss later, he has to prove he can rebound, recover and adapt.

     

    Oquendo

    He has the chance of a lifetime on Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

    The 30-year-old Puerto Rican has been stopped in his two biggest fights against name opponents—Juan Manuel Lopez blasted him in 2008, as did Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in 2012—but he might well be getting Mares at the right time.

    Oquendo is here as a decent but not too threatening opponent, but given all the turmoil and upheaval that have marked Mares' career of late, he could be dangerous, particularly in the early rounds.

Strengths

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    Mares

    He made his bones as a straight-up pressure fighter. In the past, he’s been very content to keep the entire fight on the inside, working the body—and often below—to wear down an opponent with his aggression and a high-activity rate.

    But we don’t know whether that will change, or how much, under the guidance of Hunter, a trainer who was brought in specifically to refine his game and improve his defensive abilities.

    The game plan would seem to be for Mares to remain the same type of pressure fighter he was in the past—Hunter doesn’t so much change as add to a fighter’s strengths—but with a few extra wrinkles that make him harder to hit in return. If it works, he could be even better than before, but it could take a fight or two for it all to come together.

     

    Oquendo

    He's a decent boxer with good hand speed and power. The Puerto Rican is physically strong and fights with a good work rate, something that would benefit him against an aggressive opponent like Mares.

    The 30-year-old can, and often does, effectively switch between an orthodox and southpaw stance, giving an opponent different looks and angles.

    Oquendo, given his work rate, power and determination, is a live opponent, and he could catch Mares somewhat off guard if he’s overlooking him.

Weaknesses

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    Mares

    He has been out of the ring for almost a full year—the result of a stunning knockout loss, injuries and career upheaval—and he’s making his first appearance under a new manager and trainer.

    His defensive abilities were questioned even before Gonzalez nearly removed his head from the rest of his body, and as a result, those questions have only grown. A pressure fighter who lets his hands go, Mares has always been more open to being hit in return than he should be.

    That was the primary reason he brought in Hunter, but it’s difficult for a fighter to change overnight. It usually takes a couple of fights to adapt to a new system, and he could struggle a bit before he gets going.

     

    Oquendo

    He's never beaten a fighter of or near Mares’ pedigree. Granted, he hasn’t had very many opportunities, but he’s been easily beaten the two times he stepped up in class.

    And Mares is better than both Lopez and Vazquez Jr., each of whom knocked out the Puerto Rican.

    Oquendo doesn’t have anywhere near the big-fight experience of Mares, and he just seems to be a level below what it will take to score this upset.

Abner Mares Will Win If...

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    Mares will win this fight as long as he isn’t some combination of completely underestimating his opponent, careless and diminished. You can bet that the first two won’t be a problem—Hunter runs a tight ship and doesn’t let his fighters slip into bad habits—but the last one won’t show itself until fight night.

    The 28-year-old needs to do what he does well, and that’s get inside, throw a lot of punches and wear his opponent down. He should attack the body early and often, pounding Oquendo’s midsection, all the while remaining conscious on the defensive end, avoiding big return shots whenever possible.

    Mares isn’t going to change completely overnight—nor should people expect him to—but he has the skill set to land his punches while not taking so much incoming.

    By getting inside, working the body and maintaining a high activity rate, Mares will simply be able to overwhelm Oquendo and win the fight without too much difficulty.

Jonathan Oquendo Will Win If...

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    Oquendo needs to jump on Mares from the opening bell, not allowing him to get comfortable in the fight and build confidence coming back from a devastating knockout loss.

    It would seem that the best chance the 30-year-old Puerto Rican underdog has in the fight is if he comes out of the gate strong. Mares hasn’t faced live punches in almost a year, and the last ones he faced nearly took off his head.

    The mental effects of that type of defeat often exceed the physical ones, and Oquendo really needs to treat this like a fight where his best chance will come early.

    By attacking and making Mares uncomfortable, he might be able to rattle the former champion and set the tone for the fight.

And the Winner Will Be...

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    It wasn’t all that long ago that Mares was considered one of the fastest rising stars in boxing. A multiweight world champion with an undefeated record and an aggressive, exciting style, the Mexican seemed on the path to stardom when Gonzalez derailed him.

    But that happens.

    Almost every fighter—even the best of the best—loses at some point in his career. But the true mettle of a fighter is how he responds to and recovers from adversity, and Mares has a chance to show his this Saturday.

    Mares will take a couple of rounds to settle into a rhythm and get his boxing legs back—he’s been out of the ring for 11 months—but when he does it will be a rough night for Oquendo.

    The former champion will get on the inside, where he’ll be a more elusive target, roughing up his foe and working the body with the same aggression we’ve seen in the past.

    Oquendo is just not on this level, and while he's game for it, he’ll have no solutions for Mares’ superior skills and ability to break him down.

    Mares returns with a late-stoppage of a game but overmatched Oquendo, and he looks impressive in doing it.

    Prediction: Mares TKO 10 Oquendo

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