12 Rounds With … Abner Mares

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Four-time world champion Abner Mares talks about his upcoming 126-pound title defense, what it means to be a role model in the Mexican community and how he plans to end his career.

126-pound champion Abner Mares hits the heavy bag during a recent training session as he prepares for his Oct. 14 title defense against Andres Gutierrez. (Ryan Greene/Premier Boxing Champions)

The altruism of three-division world champion Abner Mares is epitomized in his giving back to his native Mexico and mentoring youth in the Los Angeles community where he grew up.

Mares was 7 years old when his mother, Belen Martinez, made a treacherous journey with seven of her children from their native Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, to Los Angeles in search of a better life for her family. She worked three jobs early on to support them.

One of 11 siblings who grew up in Hawaiian Gardens in Los Angeles County – once called “The City of Hate” by Mares -- the 31-year-old counsels teenagers from rough areas such as South Central and Compton, and trains them at his Del Mares Gym in East Los Angeles.

Mares has provided tickets to his past two fights for underprivileged and at-risk youth, their parents and members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department whose Century Boxing Gym amateur program he financially supports and provides equipment for.

The Century’s Youth Activity League hosts Mares’ annual back-to-school drive highlighted by the donation of backpacks and other supplies. The champion also sponsors a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and recently joined a pair of local businesses in loading donations onto trucks headed for earthquake-ravaged Mexico.

Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs) is preparing for Andres Gutierrez (35-1-1, 25 KOs) as part of a 126-pound championship double-header featuring a defense by Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) against Chris Avalos (27-5, 20 KOs) from Stub Hub Center in Carson, California, airing live on FOX at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on Oct 14.

Mares is making the first defense of the crown earned by split-decision to dethrone Jesus Cuellar in December, scoring an 11th-round knockdown to rebound from a majority decision loss to Santa Cruz in August 2015.

Mares shared his thoughts about life, charity and his upcoming fight in advance of a recent workout.

Will there be a symbolic gesture made to honor Mexico on your part?

Yes, we’re definitely having a patch on our shorts that will read, “Fuerza Mexico,” which means “Be Strong, Mexico.” It’s just letting them know that we’re here for them and that they’re in my heart.

How is training going under Robert Garcia?

I’m in Riverside, California, with Robert, and we’ve spent two years together although it’s only our second fight, so I’ve been blessed to work with him. We both know that the performance I put up against Cuellar in my last fight was solid and just what I needed.

Now against Gutierrez, we’re facing another tough fighter who is only 24 years old, is hungry and has an amazing record. He’s getting the opportunity to fight for a world title, and it’s going to be a hard fight. We’re mentally and physically prepared to display something new and better.

How dangerous is Gutierrez, who pulled out of a potential fight with Carl Frampton earlier this year due to an injury?

It’s a dangerous fight for a young guy like Gutierrez getting a title opportunity. I remember fighting Vic Darchinyan for an IBO title, and I just wanted to go out there and perform.

I was around the same age as Gutierrez, and it was an opportunity that I took advantage of.  I know it’s a tough task, and that I have to show my overall experience, abilities and conditioning.

A deal is apparently in place for a rematch with Santa Cruz in March, but what are your future goals?

This is my Christmas list. If I get Frampton or [126-pound champions] Leo, Gary Russell or Oscar Valdez, and if we can make the jump to 130 and fight [ex-titleholder] Gervonta Davis, I’ll fight them.

Those are four or five fights that could totally be my career, right there. You’ve got to think of the future, and that’s the way that I see it.

What are your thoughts on returning to the site of your initial loss to Gonzalez?

Gonzalez is the fight that changed my focus to having an effect on the world through boxing, where I realized, “Hey, you’re not invincible, you’re beatable” and just have to go out there and perform. You can win some and lose some.

You don’t know how long you’re going to be on top in boxing. So many kids are looking up to you, so I try to be that example of, “Hey, you can rise up from adversity.” I’m not here just to make a lot of money and look good on camera.

In retirement, you want that 20-year-old to come up to you and say, “Abner, I used to watch you growing up, I admire you, and, now, I’m a future world champion.” I want to be remembered as someone who changed as many lives as possible before retiring. That means more to me than a world title.

This is my Christmas list. If I get Frampton or Leo, Gary Russell or Oscar Valdez, and if we can make the jump to 130 and fight Gervonta Davis, I’ll fight them. 126-pound World Champion Abner Mares

Do you have a boxing idol or hero?

I don’t imitate his style, but I have always looked up to Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. growing up. There was also Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera who you watched on TV.

Of all the boxers in history, who do you wish you could’ve fought, and how would the fight have played out?

It would have been an exciting fight if I were to have fought either Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera because of their styles. Barrera or Morales, standing there, toe-to-toe, would have been a great thing.

With someone like Juan Manuel Marquez, it would have been more of a technical fight.

Each of us likes to think in there and not just go throwing power punches. I’m not sure if that would be an exciting fight, but a Barrera fight against myself would have been stunning and a war. Obviously, I can’t bet against myself against any of them.

Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …

I would be either in prison or dead. There is a large percentage of friends that I had growing up who are all either dead or in prison, so I would have been within that percentage, also. But what’s great is that the other day, one of my friends brought his kid up to me and said, “Hey, champ, my son looks up to you.”

Then, he pulled me aside and said, “Hey, Abner, remember when you used to see me in the streets and I wasn’t doing too good, on drugs and not making sense?” I said, “Yes, and I’m happy that you’re doing well.” He said, “Yeah, I don’t make that much, but I’m with my family and I’m happy.”

To me, you have to use the platform not to be flashy, but to educate and motivate the young kids and everybody who is watching you. So when someone says, “Oh, you’re my idol, and I look up to you,” it’s great that his kid can go home and say, “Wow, that’s Abner Mares, and he’s my Dad’ friend.”

What about a favorite punch to throw?

Before Robert Garcia, I used to say that my left hook was pretty major, but, now, I’m getting very good with my jab. I know it’s not a knockout punch, necessarily, but it’s key. So you will see a more efficient jab in this fight.

Do you have a favorite boxing movie?

I like all of the Rocky movies, and I also like the recent movie, Southpaw. It tells you how it is where you have it all in one night, and then you can lose it all.

I didn’t finish watching the movie the first time because it touched me so deeply, but it gives you perspective.

If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

Hate. There’s so much racism, hate, jealousy and envy and all of the above going on in this world, nowadays, and that’s all that we see. So those are the No. 1 things I would change.

For a complete look at Mares vs Gutierrez, visit our fight page.

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