Abner Mares has won titles in three weight classes, but it's what he's accomplished outside the ring that makes him a champion.
Abner Mares is living proof that regardless of one’s background, a person can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Throughout his boxing career, Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) has achieved a tremendous amount of success. He competed in the 2004 Olympic Games as an amateur boxer. Since turning professional, Abner has proven himself at the world level by winning titles in three divisions so far, and he’s faced some of the best athletes in the sport.
But looking back at Mares’ childhood, his future was not something that was laid out for him; he faced many obstacles to get where he is now. Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Mares immigrated to the United States at seven years old. His family settled in the troubled neighborhood of Hawaiian Gardens, California, where crime and gang activity abounded.
Living in poverty, surrounded by gangs, Abner almost got pulled into the streets like so many kids who don’t have options. But thanks to his father, who sent Abner back to Mexico at 15 to pursue an amateur career in boxing, Mares found his way out.
Still, it wasn’t an easy road. After competing in the Olympics for his native Mexico, Mares returned to the United States to pursue his professional boxing career. Back in the old neighborhood, among old friends and temptations, Abner’s path almost faltered.
But all of that came to a halt when he was 19. When Abner spoke about what happened, his tone changed. It still feels raw to him.
“My neighbor across the street that I grew up with shot and killed a deputy sheriff, Jerry Ortiz,” Mares recalled.
“I was young at the time. It really impacted me. This officer had pulled me over about two weeks prior. I was trying to get away from him and he pulled me over, and he said, ‘Abner, I know you box. I’m a boxing fan. You’ve got a bright future.’ He lectured me and gave me advice. And then this happened.
“Ever since then, I try to help out as much as I can with the Sheriff’s Department and the kids’ activities.”
For the past several years, Mares has worked with the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation in Los Angeles County to reach out to kids in communities similar to the one Abner grew up in.
“We work alongside kids that just want out,” Abner said. “They’re tired of the circle of violence with the gangs.”
The LA County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation helps improve the quality of life of young people between the ages of 7 and 17 by offering free programs that help kids with academics, sports, arts, life skills, and more. The foundation’s 16 Youth Activity League locations operate from 3-7pm, giving kids a safe place to go after school where they can learn skills, make friends, or get advice from a mentor.
“ There’s so much that kids can see and relate to when they see me or hear my story. It can change their lives. ” Three-Division World Champion - Abner Mares
Boxing is one of the sports programs offered to kids who are interested. Abner has partnered with the Sheriff’s Youth Activity League to sponsor boxing shows, give motivational talks to the kids, lead back to school drives and summer programs, provide them with Thanksgiving meals and school supplies, and more.
“I like the program because it’s not only boxing, it’s education,” said Mares. “When you get to the boxing gym, you have to show that you finished your homework before you can work out. I love that. They have tutors there to help out with a subject if you’re having trouble with it.”
Mares was once just like the kids he meets through the program, and he uses his experiences to reach out to those who may not have realized it was possible to get out of poverty, to achieve more than what they see outside their doors.
“I’m fortunate and blessed to have met these great kids. I can relate to them and they relate to me. They know I grew up in that city. They know I come from poverty. They know I come from a family with 10 siblings, sleeping on floors.”
Abner took a breath as he called up the memories.
“When I had my first amateur fight, I didn’t have any boxing shoes and I would fight in my Chucks [Converse Chuck Taylors], and people would make fun of me. Things like that and being an immigrant and coming to this beautiful country that’s done so much for me—I take pride in that. And kids can relate to it.”
While Mares helps kids interested in boxing learn about the sport, he knows that making it a career isn’t for everyone. It’s a person’s outlook that’s important.
“I tell them all the time that not everybody is gonna be a world champion. But the mindset that I’m trying to get across to them is that you can become anything you want to.”
On top of the work Abner does with the Sheriff’s Department, he holds an annual turkey drive and toy drives prior to the holiday season. For those events, Mares and his team change the location every year so that they’re sure to reach as many people in need as possible.
Abner has also worked with the elementary school and high school he attended in Hawaiian Gardens to present scholarships to the kids with the highest grades.
Mares is doing all he can to ensure his message is relayed to any young person who needs to hear it.
“We try to help out as much as we can. There’s so much that kids can see and relate to when they see me or hear my story. It can change their lives.”
For a closer look at Abner Mares, check out his fighter page.
The LA County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that accepts tax-deductible money donations, as well as donations of goods and services.
"Outside the Ring" is a regular feature centered on the charitable efforts of PBC fighters. Learn more about what motivates these boxers and the causes they support outside the ring.