Former three-division world titlist Abner Mares has been out of the ring for two years, mainly due to injury, but he is anxious to fight again later this year and aiming for significant opponents as he winds down his career.
Mares, who has won world titles at bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight but has not fought since a decision loss in a rousing featherweight title rematch with Leo Santa Cruz in June 2018, was slated to move up to junior lightweight to challenge then-titleholder Gervonta “Tank” Davis in February 2019. However, two weeks before the bout, Mares suffered a detached retina in a sparring session and was forced to pull out of the fight.
“We were so close to the fight. We were at the peak,” Mares told BoxingScene.com. “It was really sad and uncomfortable for myself and family because of what I was going through with the injury. It was a bad time. I was really, really, really ready for that fight physically and mentally. We had the surgery done and now I’m back.”
Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), 34, of Huntington Beach, California, underwent surgery and while he said he was medically cleared to return to the ring late last year he wanted to take a full year off just to be certain his eye was fully healed.
He has been training for the past 2½ months with new trainer Manny Robles after parting ways with Robert Garcia and is itching to get back into the ring with a top opponent despite the long layoff.
“I jut try not to think about it. I really don’t think about it. I don’t,” Mares said of his extended layoff. “Maybe that’s an advantage. I couldn’t care less how long I’ve been out of the ring. I know my body. I have the experience to still perform and work with what I have regardless of my injury. It’s all mental.
“When people say to me maybe I should have a tune-up fight I don’t need it, especially at the time of my career that I’m in. I’m looking at two, maybe three more fights. And those three fights, I don’t have time for a tune-up fight.”
Mares mentioned several opponents that he has some degree of interest in facing, including world titleholders Joseph Diaz Jr. and Jamel Herring and rising lightweight star Ryan Garcia, each of whom has mentioned interest in facing him also.
“I like to talk, I like people calling me out, I like being brought up,” Mares said. “I like it. I don’t believe in bad publicity. And they’re all good names. I’m really flattered to even be brought up,” Mares said. “People call me out because they know I bring a good name, a good reputation and they feel they have an advantage, obviously, because I’ve been out for so long and my age, and they think I could be a good win for them for their career.”
As far as Mares is concerned, that’s fine with him because he said he has had a good rest and has felt good training again.
“I’m hard on myself and I tell my dad and Manny if they see any type or glimpse of my body not being the same, or I don’t look good, just tell me now,” Mares said. “I want to be good. I feel good. My body is reacting really well. I’m ready.”
As for his eye, he said he has had no issues.
“It is good. I got the green light to come back last year. I could have come back as early the end of this past year,” he said. “But I wanted to let my eye heal the whole year. I just took my time. I let it heal a whole year and it’s good.”
His first choice of opponent is Diaz, although not because he happens to hold a 130-pound world title.
“I’m not even thinking of a title, a fourth world title in a four divisions,” Mares said. “I think my goal before I retire is I want to leave a great legacy in the sport. My legacy is I want to be known as somebody that fought everyone and fought the best.”
After Diaz, Mares prefers Garcia, who, like Diaz, has called him out, and then Herring. He’d also like to put the fight with Davis back together. But Mares also knows none of those matches are slam dunks to happen.
Diaz has a contractual obligation to fight Tevin Farmer in a rematch. Herring is scheduled to defend his title against Jonathan Oquendo on July 2 followed by a probable showdown with Carl Frampton, another opponent Mares is interested in. Garcia would mean a two-division jump for Mares.
“I’m looking at Joseph Diaz as he is in his prime, a great fighter and getting the opportunity and beating him will mark my legacy. It’s a plus that he holds a title,” Mares said. “Ryan Garcia doesn’t hold a title but he holds a name. Frampton would be a great name even though he doesn’t have a title. Herring wanted to fight but we all know that wasn’t going to happen and now he has a fight coming up with Jonathan Oquendo.
“The one that makes the most sense is Joseph Diaz. I’ll be comfortable at 130. If it was Ryan Garcia, he’s a 135-pounder and I’ve never fought there in my whole life. That’s jumping two weight classes. I like that Diaz has a name and he’s in his prime. I hope we can make that fight happen despite the rivalry between the promotion companies, which I don’t see as an issue these days.”
Mares is with adviser Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, although he said he is not under a promotional contract to anyone. Diaz is with Golden Boy as is Garcia, whom he said he was waiting on an offer from for a fight after their very public back and forth on social media.
“I am supposed to be getting a proposal,” Mares said. “So far I haven’t gotten anything. Garcia has been calling out the whole world this (coronavirus) quarantine. He’s called out Devin Haney, Tank, (Jorge) Linares. He called myself out. This kid has called out every single guy you can think of.
“He’s an Instagram sensation right now. He has his following. He’s marketing himself and creating hype. But nothing personal against the kid, but if he wants to fight and he wants respect I’m here. He has to show a little more respect. Respect your elders, man, especially when they’ve done more than you have done so far.”
Mares also has not forgotten about Davis, who is also with PBC. Davis moved up to lightweight in December and knocked out Yuriorkis Gamboa in the 12th round to win a world title but is headed back to junior lightweight to challenge Santa Cruz for his belt in that division later this year.
“I wanted that fight with Tank and I still want that fight,” Mares said. “I asked Mr. Al (Haymon), ‘Can we make that fight happen in the future?’ And he said, ‘That fight is there in the future if you want it.’”
Mares would be happy to have that bout or any other as long as his opponent is a top name.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.