When Abner Mares pulled out of his fight against Gervonta Davis last week, citing an elbow injury, the response was critical. Social media trolls and even Davis himself accused Mares of lying about the injury, so Mares decided to set the record straight on FOX’s "Inside PBC Boxing" on Sunday afternoon (full disclosure: I work as a writer and researcher for the show), revealing it was more serious than anyone knew.
Mares (31-3-1, 15 knockouts) confirmed in the show’s final segment that the elbow injury wasn’t the real reason for pulling out of the fight. Mares actually suffered a detached retina in his right eye, a much more serious and potentially career-threatening injury.
“I do have a bad elbow, but not that bad to cancel the fight,” Mares told Inside PBC Boxing host Kate Abdo in an emotional one-on-one interview. “I mainly said elbow because I was afraid. I didn't want people to know about my eye. I said if I tell people about my eye, people are gonna think that’s it, he’s not fighting anymore, it’s a red flag. I don’t know, I was scared honestly. I was scared to let the people know that I’m going through this. I don’t want people to see me as handicapped. I don’t want people to feel that I can’t fight anymore because I know I can. I just wanted to hide it. No one knew. I just recently told my manager and my promoter, no one knew. Only my family members and it was hard.”
The former three-division champion revealed that he suffered the injury in sparring on Wednesday, Jan. 23. He underwent emergency retinal detachment surgery on Jan. 30 at San Gabriel Hospital.
“I was seeing flashes, and I couldn’t see from here up,” Mares said in a video feature that preceded the interview. Mares then said his wife made him go see the doctor.
“I got hit in the eye,” Mares told Abdo. “I felt the pain, but I went through it. I still sparred. I came back on Friday for another sparring session, I got hit again. It’s a contact sport. And my eye got super red. And it was that Friday and Saturday where I started seeing clouds and just blurred vision and I told my wife and my wife was like, ‘You got to get it checked.’ I said, 'No, I’m good.' So, Monday came and I was gonna go to the gym. I had another sparring session ready for Monday. But my wife insisted to go see the doctor. So, she won and I went to the doctor. … He said, 'Abner, you have a detached retina. You’re not gonna be able to fight.'"
This is the second time Mares has suffered a detached retina in his career. The first time he suffered a detached retina, it was for his right eye in 2008. It knocked him off the undercard of Bernard Hopkins’s victory over Kelly Pavlik and was while Mares was still a rising bantamweight contender. He’s since gone on to win four world titles in three divisions and establish himself as one of the best-credentialed fighters of the last decade.
That eye injury has only kept Mares out of the ring once. He was set to face Jesus Cuellar in New York in June of 2016, but the New York State Athletic Commission wouldn’t approve Mares due to his eye history. He eventually beat Cuellar in Los Angeles that December, earning the WBA regular featherweight belt. Mares has fought in states such as California and Nevada, which are pretty strict when it comes to licensing. New York operates at the strictest levels.
Though Mares said he is confident he will fight again, he leaves his career in the hands of his doctors, saying that he will accept retirement if he’s told it’s best to stay out of the ring.
“My doctor is one of the best and if he says Abner, you’re good to go, I’m going to up there and continue to become a world champion once again,” Mares told Abdo. “And if he says no, I’m ready for retirement. But I honestly feel I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna conquer that and become a world champion once again.”
It was stirring to see a fighter like Mares use the PBC’s show on FOX to address his injury. One thing that was hard to watch was Mares talking about how much it hurt him to see the fans criticizing him for pulling out of the fight.
“[It was] more devastating knowing that when the fight was announced canceled, the messages I was receiving from people saying that I was a fake, that I was faking an injury, that it was a way to pull out of the fight when in reality people didn’t know the pain what I was going through,” Mares explained. “I’m not that type of person, I’m not that type of fighter. I always fight. I called out Davis, I wanted him. He direct messaged me saying the same thing, ‘Why did you have to fake the injury?’ That really boiled me up. I responded back, and it’s been a tough week.”
Mares was set to face Davis in the Showtime-televised main event this Saturday as he lobbied for his fourth-divisional title, which would put him amongst Mexican greats like Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales. At 33 years of age, Mares was likely on the back-nine of his career, but was going after someone many consider the best super featherweight in the world in Davis.
“Let me tell you — it must’ve sounded stupid then — but I remember telling my eye doctor, ‘Let me fight this one fight. I don’t care if I go blind.’ And the doctor got really mad and he said, ‘Abner, you’re stupid. I’m never gonna let you fight like this,’" Mares said. "But that was how bad I wanted to fight. I really wanted to fight on Saturday. I wanted to fight Gervonta. I know I could beat this guy. I know I could win. I trained really hard this week. I was pretty much done with camp, but things happen for a reason.”
Let’s all hope Mares makes a speedy recovery, and whatever the result, he chooses the best option for his long-term health. Real boxing fans know that Abner Mares has never ducked a challenge, and you can put his resume up there against any active fighter and it stands up pretty damn well.