As he prepares to launch a new podcast and make a ring return, the former three-division world champion reflects on the events that led to depression and how he overcame it.
“It’s like a loose piece of wallpaper, hanging - if you don’t do anything about it, it’s gonna fall off completely.”
That’s how Abner Mares described a torn retina. In January of 2019, during the third round of a sparring match with a fighter whose name he cannot remember, Mares suffered the injury.
“Everything went blurry,” the three-division world champion said.
Despite that, he finished the sparring session and, two days later, sparred again. “I thought it would clear up on its own.”
His peripheral vision was gone. Mares was two weeks away from stepping into the ring against Gervonta Davis in an event that had the officials at the Dignity Health Sports Park adding seats to the bleacher section. Mares entertained the idea of waiting until after the fight to have his eye checked out. His wife had a smarter plan. The following Monday, seated in the doctor’s office, Mares felt the walls close in on him when he heard the results.
I’m sorry, you have a detached retina.
The doctor kept talking but Mares’ mind drifted to the cancellation of the Davis fight. The following day, he underwent emergency surgery at San Gabriel Hospital. The retina was repaired. His spirit, however, was dented. The idea that his career was over was a real possibility. “I didn’t want to be known as the guy whose career ended because of an injury.”
Nearly 15 years in the ring against some of the world’s best fighters and it was all about to come to an end courtesy of a sparring partner with an unknown name. Mares’ vision remained blurry for about a month after the surgery. The cancellation of the fight, the injury, it all came too suddenly for Mares. “I didn’t want people to think I was handicapped.” In a haste, he told the world he injured his elbow.
In a predatory sport such as boxing, Mares did what many species in the wild do to protect themselves – he concealed his injury. Tigers roar loudest when they’re threatened and in boxing, even a legendary boxer such as Harry Greb hid his cast under his topcoat. For one month, he kept the plaster out of view because, he said, “Folks’ll think I’m fragile.”
Instead of fragile or handicap, what people thought and wrote about Mares was worse, he said. Internet trolls and even boxing insiders accused him of faking the injury. One of them was Davis himself. He too was frustrated over a cancellation that ended up temporarily putting on pause the momentum of both fighters’ careers. He and Mares bumped heads briefly on social media, things were said, fingers were pointed, but in the end, once he found out the truth, Davis called Mares to apologize.
While Davis went ahead and fought a replacement opponent the night he and Mares were to fight, Mares found himself in a months-long funk that had him contemplating retiring from the ring. He made a few public appearances after the surgery, appearing each time slouching and looking down, his eye tucked away behind an eye patch. And that eye was healing too slowly for a boxer whose body was ready to go 12 rounds. Some days Mares wanted to box, some days he wanted nothing to do with the sport. Though he did not realize it at the time, what he was feeling was normal.
“ I didn’t want to be known as the guy whose career ended because of an injury. ” Former Three-Division World Champion - Abner Mares
A few years back, the National Institutes of Health released a study with findings that showed that nearly 90 percent of patients who went through surgery for a detached retina were at “possible clinical case” levels of depression. Nearly 30 percent of those reached levels of “probable mood disorders.”
Eventually, his vision returned. So did his desire to box again. Mares is planning a return next year, possibly at lightweight and he is gunning for all the big names in the division. This year, however, Mares, who is only weeks away from his fighting weight, has other matters to tend to.
He has his own line of products - Mares Slimming Gel, various detox pills, and proteins - that are either out on the market, or about to be released. Then there is his broadcast work.
A few years ago, Mares made an appearance on the popular Spanish-language talk show, Titulares Y Mas, and left the producers of the Telemundo network so impressed with his ease in front of the cameras, they offered him a gig covering the upcoming Olympics.
That was followed by regular work on the Telemundo boxing broadcasts and recently, a similar post on ShowTime, making him one of the few ringside analysts covering boxing shows in more than one language. He was also a co-host of the popular Inside the PBC on Fox series and was nominated for a Streamy award in 2018 for his Instagram series “Abner Mares: Body, Mind and Soul” which had almost a million cumulative views.
Next month he launches his podcast on Apple Podcasts via Blue Wire Podcasts. His first guest is LL Cool J, who spoke, among other things, about his uncle, 1930s light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis.
In this pandemic year where celebrations have been put on hold or downsized and events like Hispanic Heritage Month will not get its proper due, we should find the time to recognize the contributions that fighters like Mares have made to the sport both in the ring and behind the mic. He’s thrilled to have the opportunity to provide commentary in both languages and embraces his heritage and those of the entire Hispanidad. His favorite boxer is Puerto Rican. “Ever since the Olympics, I just liked the way Miguel Cotto fought and the way he carried himself.”
He should be proud of the way he carries himself too, in and out of the ring, in English and in Spanish. Without realizing it, by simply being himself, he has become a role model. And those are the best kind.
For a closer look at Abner Mares, check out his fighter page.
- Abner Mares