Abner Mares looks to silence doubters with win over Gervonta Davis

Sporting News
A battle-tested Abner Mares speaks with Sporting News about trying to defy the odds and defeat Gervonta Davis on Feb. 9.
A battle-tested Abner Mares speaks with Sporting News about trying to defy the odds and defeat Gervonta Davis on Feb. 9.

LOS ANGELES — If Thursday’s press conference downtown at the Conga Room is any indication, Abner Mares won’t struggle to add four pounds when he squares off against Gervonta Davis. He’s carrying at minimum a four-pound chip on his shoulder.

Mares looks to add his name to a short list of Mexican-born fighters to win titles in four different divisions when he meets Davis for a 130-pound clash Feb. 9 in Carson, California on Showtime. He would join Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Jorge Arce as the only to do it, likely punching his ticket to Canastota, New York as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Mares didn’t just pick a guy with a belt — he picked who many consider the guy at 130 pounds in Davis. This will be the longest-odds underdog Mares has ever been.

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When questions opened up to the throng of reporters who attended the press conference, one asked Davis for a prediction on what round he would knock Mares out in. That really annoyed Mares, as evidenced by his response when asked by Sporting News if a win over Davis would be the biggest of his career.

“Oh, definitely, because this is a fight where a lot of people are doubting me, like the gentleman that just asked that one dumb question,” Mares said. “This is a fight where I’m going to prove people wrong and shut the doubters [up].”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Mares opened up about why he was bothered by someone suggesting Davis knocking him out is basically a formality.

“That really bothered me, I didn’t know who that was,” Mares said. “You come to a press conference to get things from the fighters, not just hey what round are you gonna knock him out in. That’s just disrespectful, I saw it as disrespectful to me that I would be here in the same room. With this one, they’re just — period — they’re counting me out because of his power, because of his youth, because of his strength. They’re counting me out.”

He added: “And does it bother me? Yes, it bothers me. You know how I was gonna start the press conference? I was gonna start it like this — ‘Hello, my name is Abner Mares, ex-Olympian, ex-bantamweight, super bantamweight, featherweight champion.’ You know why? To remind people of what I’ve done. People I think they forgot the type of adversity and styles I’ve been up against and they think this is something new, which it’s not. It’s just another fight for me.”

In what is becoming less and less of an anomaly as 2018 turns to 2019, a fight that the fans have been clamoring for will come to fruition. Mares is correct that people are forgetting his accolades. He overcame the odds in winning Showtime’s bantamweight tournament, and even followed up a controversial win over Joseph Agbeko in the finals with a clear win in their rematch. He beat long-avoided champion Anselmo Moreno when he moved up and faced the best No. 1 featherweight in the world in Leo Santa Cruz, coming up short, but in competitive bouts.

It’s what got under Mares’s skin Thursday. He has never turned down a tough challenge — this isn’t new for the 33-year-old fighter.

“We're not just going into this fight blind. I'm not stupid,” Mares said. “I'm taking this fight because I see something in this guy. It's a tough fight, no doubt. All fights are tough. He's in for a good fight. At the end of the day, you guys have to stop worrying about my weight and if I'm too small. You guys are going to get a great fight and that's all that matters. Sit back, look pretty and enjoy the fight.”

Mares also has trainer Robert Garcia in his corner. Garcia will lead a corner in five world title bouts over the course of 49 days, beginning with Josesito Lopez against Keith Thurman on Jan. 26 on FOX in Brooklyn. Garcia won’t corner that fight because it’s his daughter’s quinceañera.

Mares isn’t nearly as big of an underdog as Lopez, but will still likely be a two- or three-to-one underdog when they met Feb. 9. Garcia will then drive three-plus hours to Fresno for Jose Ramirez’s 140-pound title defense the next night on ESPN. The trainer will work IBF 105-pound champ Carlos Licona’s corner Feb. 16 on the Leo Santa Cruz-Miguel Flores undercard. It all culminates in Mikey Garcia’s bold challenge of Errol Spence on Mar. 16 on FOX pay-per-view.

For 99.9 percent of boxing trainers, this would be way too much. But this isn’t Garcia’s first rodeo with this kind of scheduling. There’s a reason Jose Ramirez said Freddie Roach always seemed too busy to work with him and Ramirez opted to go to Garcia and it has worked.

“I love doing this,” Garcia told Sporting News. “I love these challenges. I love having five title fights back-to-back within 49 days. It just motivates me. I have a great team also. I have a beautiful family that supports me and is with me 100 percent. So all that makes it easier.”

Mares isn’t the only one with a chip on his shoulder. His trainer feels the same way — queue Roy Jones Jr.’s “Y’all Must Have Forgot.”

“This motivates me. Especially with three that nobody gives us a chance. We were in that situation with Brandon [Rios] when he faced [Lamont] Peterson, nobody gave us a chance,” Garcia said. “He beat the s— out of him. Maidana did the same thing [against Broner]. Abner has been through it with Cuellar. Still, now, people still don’t give us a shot. It doesn’t bother me, but it does make you go, ‘Damn, when the f— are people going to believe in my work?’”

Garcia has been with Mares for a number of fights now and it’s clear the two are very fond of each other. Mares doesn’t sound worried that his trainer will be spread too thin between now and this very important fight of his.

“We'll already have 50 percent of the fight won just by having a good corner, a good team and a great plan,” Mares said. “The other 50 percent is up to the fighter to perform. One thing is having the game plan in your mind, but it's another thing to go out there and perform that game plan.”

Garcia added: “We’ve been working for a few years already and Abner’s a listener. That was probably the first thing that was in my mind when I started working with him. He’s a world champion that has accomplished a lot, but he still drives to my gym every day. He listens, he trains at the time I tell him to train. He’s a listener. He wants to get better. Everybody else [I’m working with], they’re all happy. I’m going to be training with Josesito, but I’m gonna be with Abner every day until his fight. Same thing with Josesito, same thing with Jose Ramirez.”

Garcia is basically working 10-hour days at the gym. On Thursday, he knew he had the press conference for Mares and Davis and went to the gym beforehand to work with Jose Ramirez. A typical day has Garcia working with Mares at 10 a.m. Then it’s Ramirez at noon, Lopez at 2 p.m., and Mikey at 4 p.m. His younger, less experienced fighters find sparring within the group of top guys Garcia works with and get their work in during that time.

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The criticism of many top trainers have been their propensity for adding to their stable, while still trying to maintain the same hours they had with just one top guy. But Garcia isn’t that guy. It’s why Garcia is up as a nominee for Trainer of the Year in numerous publications.

A win for Mares would be undoubtedly the signature victory of his career. Many are comparing Davis to a young Mayweather and it’s no surprise he has Floyd Jr. and Leonard Ellerbe helping guide his career alongside Al Haymon. It would mean a whole lot more than if Mares tried cherry-picking a title off one of the other titleholders at the weight. It would certainly be a feather in the cap for Garcia, too.

In a sport where there’s fewer and fewer guys who care more about legacy than anything else, Abner Mares is a breath of fresh air. His voice stands out amongst the guys who say, ‘I let my team decide the next course of action’ by saying he wanted Davis and nobody else. It’s what will leave a lasting impression amongst boxing fans long after he decides to hang them up.

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