It's time for Abner Mares (26-1-1, 14 KO) to pick up the pieces. He suffered a devastating KO loss at the hands of Jhonny Gonzalez in Aug. 2013. The defeat cost Mares his WBC featherweight title. Now the 28-year-old looks to ascend the ladder toward another world title and perhaps a rematch with Gonzalez.
Before that happens, Mares must handle veteran Puerto Rican contender Jonathan Oquendo (24-3, 16 KO) on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara bout on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Here's how you can catch the entire card:
When: Saturday, July 12, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: MGM Grand in Las Vegas
TV: Showtime pay-per-view
Live Stream: BoxNation (subscription required and region restricted)
The Book on Mares
The hard-nosed and tough Mares saw his image as one of the sturdiest young champions in the sport take a hit with the loss to Gonzalez.
In previous battles, Mares had been able to lower his head and power through slugfests with tough opponents. Against Gonzalez, he met the challenger who he could not beat in a brawl. This may have served as a wake-up call.
Mares has hired famed trainer Virgil Hunter, and this bout against Oquendo will be his first under Hunter's tutelage. Also serving as the head man in the corner for Andre Ward, Amir Khan and others, Hunter has gained a reputation as a positive influence for fighters looking to add more defense and boxing skills to their repertoire.
In an interview with Lem Satterfield of The Ring Magazine, Mares talks about the impact Hunter has had on him already.
"You're going to see a more intelligent fighter with a little bit more boxing," he said. "There are things that I already have that Virgil is bringing back out, and he's polishing them up."
Mares will need those skills against Oquendo, and it's good he aligned with Hunter now. Gaining a comfort level for a style that lends itself to more longevity is smart for any fighter with the skills.
Mares had an agreement to fight Gonzalez in a rematch in February, but an injury threw the plans off. Afterward, there was room to make the second fight, but Mares told ESPN's Dan Rafael he needed more time to recover.
Perhaps ultimately it will be a good thing that he waited. A new and improved Mares may be better suited to gain his revenge.
The Book on Oquendo
Not many people know Oquendo, but he has put together a good run recently. Golden Boy Promotions head man Oscar De La Hoya talked up the 30-year-old Puerto Rican during the pre-fight conference call (h/t Bad Left Hook).
De La Hoya gushed: "He's coming off a great 12-round unanimous decision over top prospect Guillermo Avila. So, obviously, he's here and he wants to make a statement, especially on this big blockbuster Pay-Per-View card."
Handing Mares his second straight loss would make quite a statement. Fans would obviously doubt Mares, but it would also give Oquendo a bit of respect. That's something he isn't getting much of from oddsmakers.
Per Odds Shark, Mares is a -833 favorite to win.
Oquendo's most notable past opponents were Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Juan Manuel Lopez. Oquendo lost both fights and was stopped each time. Should we expect a better performance from him this time?
The total effects from training with Hunter will take some time to shine through, but Oquendo is a good opponent to test the new Mares. Oquendo has quick and heavy hands. His left hook is especially explosive.
Mares will have to be careful not to get caught with a punch he doesn't see. Remember, it was a left hook from Gonzalez that started the issues for Mares in his last fight.
There is one major difference here, and that's size. Gonzalez stands 5'6.5" and has a 69-inch reach, per BoxRec. Oquendo is 5'4" with just a 67-inch reach. Gonzalez's punches came from an angle that were simply out of sight for Mares.
That isn't likely to be the case against Oquendo. By picking his spots and bouncing inside and out, Mares will do a number on Oquendo's body and break him in the middle rounds.
In a triumphant return to the ring, Mares wins by seventh-round TKO.
Follow me on Twitter.