Saturday night at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, California, Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs), from Montebello, California, by way of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, scored a split decision victory over reigning and defending champion Jesus Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs), from Jose C. Paz, Buenos Aires, Argentina, to win the WBA World featherweight title.
The final scores were 117-110 (Max DeLuca), 116-111 (Dave Moretti), and 112-115 (Kermit Bayless).
Fighting out of the red corner in blue trunks with white trim, Mares was making his first start in 16 months. With two losses in his last six fights, Mares was thought to be on the downside of his career. The knock on Mares was that he fought with his heart instead of his head, with results that were exciting but often unpredictable. But with master trainer Robert Garcia in his corner for the first time, Mares fought a disciplined, strategic, intelligent fight to win the title.
Cuellar, fighting out of the blue corner in red trunks trimmed in white and gold, was riding an 11-fight win streak coming into the bout. A notoriously hard puncher, he too was working with a new trainer, Hall-of-Famer Freddie Roach, but he looked awkward Saturday night as his challenger, moving in and out and side to side, outpunched and, more important, outthought the now-former titleholder.
“I feel so good,” said Mares after the fight, “it’s been a long time. I’m champion, baby. We had the perfect game plan.”
That they did.
“I never doubted myself,” he continued. “I felt it in my heart. When I fought Leo [Santa Cruz in August 2015] I beat myself because I fought the wrong fight. I fought smart tonight. I thought it would be a unanimous decision, but at the end of the day I’m champion.”
Mares dropped Cuellar with a straight right hand in the opening minute of round 11, sending him to the canvas for only the third time of his career. Cuellar was disappointed at the loss, but he did not dispute the decision.
“I thought the fight was pretty even until he threw me down, and that’s when he took control,” said Cuellar. “He definitely had the boxing skills going today. I would have preferred a rough fight, but Mares had his skills today. I want a rematch. I gave him the opportunity and now I think it’s fair that he gives it to me.”
A rematch is a possibility. But having dispatched Cuellar with relative ease, Mares believes he has unfinished business with Santa Cruz. There’s also the WBA Super World featherweight champion known as “The Jackal” that Mares would like to fight.
“They said he was a power puncher,” said Mares about Cuellar,” they said he was going to knock me out, but I proved that I have some power, too.” When asked what’s on tap for the new champion, Mares said, “I want Leo, I want Frampton, I want anyone. I’m a champion. I’m not afraid of anyone.”
This article was penned by the author who is not related to the WBA and the statements, expressions or opinions referenced herein are that of the author alone and not the WBA.