Abner Mares promised to stick to his game plan against Jesus Cuellar after abandoning it in his last bout. Not only did he stay the course, he showed all his skills in doing so as he became a world champion for the fourth time.
Abner Mares outboxed Jesus Cuellar throughout the fight Saturday night and dropped the defending champion in the 11th round to gain a split decision in their 126-pound title bout at the Galen Center on the USC campus in Los Angeles.
Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs) was coming off a 16-month layoff after dropping a majority decision to Leo Santa Cruz in a 126-pound title bout in August 2015, but he was sharp from the opening round against Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs), landing counter shots as he worked beautifully off his back foot.
“People thought I was washed up and that Cuellar would knock me out,” Mares said. “The Mares from my previous three fights is no more. I’m back. I never felt Cuellar’s power and proved I have some power, too.
“It was tough not to try pleasing the crowd with a brawl, but I showed my other talents, proved everybody wrong and proved something to myself.”
After engaging in a slugfest in his loss to Santa Cruz, Mares fought a more disciplined fight against Cuellar as he continually kept the Argentine southpaw off balance with superior footwork and precise counterpunching.
Two of the judges scored the bout for Mares, 117-111 and 116-112, while the third had it 115-113 for Cuellar.
“The fight was pretty even until he [knocked] me down and took control,” Cuellar said through a translator. “I would have preferred a rough fight, but Mares had the skills today. I want a rematch. I gave him the opportunity, now I think it’s fair that he gives it to me.”
Mares was victorious in his first fight with trainer Robert Garcia, who gained a measure of payback after being dismissed last year by Cuellar, whom Garcia trained for two years and helped win a world title.
Garcia also improved his record to 2-2 against trainer Freddie Roach, who began working with Cuellar five months ago.
“I knew exactly how Cuellar fights, so it was easy for me,” Garcia said. “He has power but throws the left so slow.
“People didn’t believe in Abner and thought Freddie was better than me, but I proved them wrong."
Mares, 31, won his first world championship since beating Daniel Ponce De Leon for a 126-pound title in May 2013. He suffered his first career defeat in his next bout in August 2013, when Jhonny Gonzalez dethroned him with a first-round KO.
Mares, who also earned world titles at 118 and 122 pounds, said he wants the winner of the January 28 title rematch between Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton, who won a Fight of the Year candidate against Santa Cruz in July.
“When I fought Leo, I fought the wrong fight. I beat myself,” Mares said. “But with Robert in my corner, I think I would beat Leo. Whoever wins between Frampton and Leo, I want that fight.”
Cuellar, 29, had an 11-fight win streak snapped, experiencing his first loss since a seventh-round TKO to Oscar Escandon in October 2011.
“Cuellar was a little flat,” Roach said. “Abner had a good strategy. He moved and held and it worked. Abner was a better man tonight.”
For a complete look at Cuellar vs Mares, visit our fight page.