The three-division world champion is making a speedy recovery from eye surgery and is now targeting a showdown this year versus WBC Super Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr.
Shattered knuckles, fractured wrists, dislocated shoulders, hematomas the size of watermelons — such is the litany of injuries that boxers routinely incur in the ring.
But none of them, no matter how serious, quite measure up to the injuries inflicted on the eyes.
Just ask 1980’s middleweight contender Michael Olajide Jr., who retired not long after he was poked in the eye during a mundane sparring session. He wears a patch on his right eye to this day.
Worse yet is the case of the middleweight Sugar Ray Seales, a gold medalist at the 1972 Olympics. In 1980, a journeyman named Jamie Thomas thumbed him in the right eye, tearing his retina. Seales hung on for a few more years, but retired when he was 31 and deemed legally blind in both eyes. By that time he had surgery seven times.
More recently, British middleweight Anthony Ogogo retired in March after sustaining a fractured eye socket during a fight back in 2016. Ogogo, too, had gone through seven operations, but to no avail, at least for pugilistic purposes.
Sam Langford, Leotis Martin, Jeff Chandler, Calvin Brock, and Zou Schiming and others throughout history have had to abandon their ring pursuits because of eye-related trauma. Some, like Lamon Brewster and Antonio Margarito, made brief (and in the latter’s case, ill-advised) comebacks after torn-retina surgery. The success stories are few, maybe just one: “Sugar” Ray Leonard would recover from a detached retina in 1982 and go on to defeat Marvin Hagler five years later.
Bantamweight titleholder Abner Mares, who suffered a detached right retina earlier this year during training camp for his proposed February 9 fight against Gervonta Davis, is focused on mounting his own ring comeback.
“I will be back this year for sure.” Mares said. “Our estimated time, I hope, is September, the latest, October.”
And the right eye?
“I just saw my ophthalmologist yesterday to get updates on my eye and it looks good,” Mares replied. “He had some really good news. The progress since surgery has been great.”
This is not the first time Mares, 33, has gone under the knife to repair a detached retina. He suffered the same injury on his left eye, in 2008, and did not return to the sport until a year later.
Asked if he should perhaps reconsider coming back, given that eye injuries have felled some of the greatest boxers in the sport, Mares responded that, while he is aware of the pitfalls and public disapproval, they are not his concern.
“Let me interrupt you there,” Mares said. “That was the case for boxers back in the days, when technology wasn’t as good as now. It’s mainly about recovery for me. I’m telling you from experience because I’ve had an eye injury in 2008. The same injury. Eleven years later, I’m still fighting. That’s all I have to say. I will be back.
“People need to understand. It’s like any injury. An open wound. You need to let it heal and close. We’re just waiting to be 100%.”
According to Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), he should be back in the gym in May, so long as his ophthalmologist gives him the green light. “Hopefully,” he said, sounding optimistic.
“ This year I’m only going to have one fight as well, so why not make it a high-level fight?” ” Three-Division World Champion - Abner Mares
At least that would alleviate some of the restlessness he has built up during the past few months, though that is not say that Mares has sat idle. As the boxing analyst for the
PBC on FOX studio show as well as for the Spanish-language channel Telemundo, Mares keeps himself occupied. Still, he is a fighter at heart and the broadcasting gigs, while fun and educational, remain largely alien to his psyche.
“To be totally honest with you, I didn’t foresee the analyst jobs — it was a great surprise,” Mares admitted. "I’m really enjoying working for both networks and hope that it continues. I’m having fun being the guy that covers boxing and is a champion fighter. I have a unique perspective on the sport and I like working on this side of the business talking to fighters and covering fights.”
The hunger pangs for fighting flare up the most when fellow combatants drop by after a fight. The most recent guest at the studio was four-division titleholder Mikey Garcia, whose resolve to bounce back from the loss to Errol Spence Jr. was not lost on Mares.
“Mikey said something that I just loved,” Mares recalled. “They asked him ‘are you going to be back soon?’ He said ‘yes, I’ll be back at 147.’ ‘Do you want to take an easy fight after a defeat?’ And he said ‘no, I wanna fight the best.’
“And that’s my mentality as well. I had an injury but that doesn’t mean that makes me less as a high level fighter. It just means I had an injury I recovered and I’m back to the same level. Period.”
Mares cited Carl Frampton, Gervonta Davis, Leo Santa Cruz (in a third fight), and Gary Russell Jr. as all matchups that he would entertain for his comeback fight. In other words, he is not interested in tune-ups.
“I’m happy to face (these fighters) because I am that level of fighter,” Mares stated. “I don’t see myself taking a step down because honestly that just makes you a handicap. Why do you have to take an easy fight? I just don’t see the point. Last year I only had one fight. This year I’m only going to have one fight as well, so why not make it a high-level fight?”
In particular, Mares would love to square off against the talented WBC featherweight champion Russell, if only to challenge what he regards as that fighter’s perplexing prizefighting philosophy.
“It’s not anything against him, he’s a great fighter, but he should be fighting top-notch opponents like myself,” Mares said, referring to Russell’s oft-criticized low ambition. “I don't know why he’s not doing that. He fights once every two years for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because he doesn’t like boxing. I don’t know why. I don’t know why!”
Russell’s next fight — against gatekeeper Kiko Martinez on the undercard of Deontay Wilder-Dominic Breazeale on May 18 — only adds to Mares’ bewilderment.
“Nothing against the guy, but that’s a dude who was stopped by Leo Santa Cruz,” Mares said. “Why would you want to fight someone at that level? I just don’t get it. If you want to be considered one of the best you gotta fight the best.”
Indeed, Mares has adhered to that logic, two career-threatening eye injuries notwithstanding.
“Hopefully when I come back he’ll be available and he’ll consider fighting me,” he said.
For a closer look at Abner Mares, check out his fighter page.
- Abner Mares