By Michael Rosenthal
LOS ANGELES – Leonard Ellerbe, the promoter of Gervonta Davis, was speaking at a press conference to promote Davis’ February 9 title defense against Abner Mares when he asked the overriding question going into the fight:
“Did Abner Mares bite off more than he can chew?”
The consensus answer to Ellerbe’s question is “yes.” And it’s not difficult to understand why.
Davis (20-0, 19 knockouts) hasn’t fought since he stopped Jesus Cuellar in three rounds in April, in part because of promotional issues, but he’s still Gervonta Davis, a young (24), dynamic knockout machine and blossoming star.
Mares’ accomplishments are impressive – with major titles in three weight divisions – but he has no discernible advantages other than experience and he’s moving up in weight to boot. Plus, he’s coming off a unanimous-decision loss to Leo Santa Cruz in June.
Mares, 33, can’t be dismissed entirely because of his track record. Still, some are wondering whether this is suicide.
Of course, such a situation is nothing new for Robert Garcia, Mares’ trainer. His brother, Mikey Garcia, made a similar move when he decided to move up in weight and challenge fearsome welterweight titleholder Errol Spence against all odds.
“I told Abner after his last fight, ‘Look, you still have a big name, you’re still a big draw. Let’s take two, three fights, maybe get back on a winning streak and then look for a title fight,’” Garcia said before the press conference began. “He said the same thing Mikey said, ‘Nah, I’m not picking any easy opponents. I’m going to go out there and challenge myself.’
“We weren’t thinking of Gervonta Davis at that time but he wanted to move up in weight, try for a title in a fourth division. You have to admire him for taking the biggest challenge.”
Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) said he was sitting in his car reading social media one day when he stumbled upon a post that mentioned a “dream matchup”: Gervonta Davis vs. Abner Mares. He looked up and thought, “This would be a great fight.”
He immediately had his representatives reach out to Davis, who shares a manager (Al Haymon) with Mares. Davis, hoping to kickoff what he expects to be a busy 2019 with a high-profile matchup, jumped at the opportunity.
They will fight for Davis’ WBA 130-pound title at Dignity Health Sports Park, the new name of StubHub Center as of January 1.
“We’re not just going into this fight blind. I’m not stupid,” Mares said. “I’m taking this fight because I see something in this guy. It’s a tough fight, no doubt. All fights are tough. He’s in for a good fight. At the end of the day, you guys have to stop worrying about my weight and if I’m too small. You guys are going to get a great fight and that’s all that matters. Sit back, look pretty and enjoy the fight.”
As long as it lasts, some might suggest.
One “journalist” at the press conference stood up and asked Davis, with Mares sitting on the opposite end of the dais, “In what round will you knock him out?” Mares bristled at the question, calling it “dumb,” and later expressed his outrage.
“That really bothered me,” he said. “… Do you know how I was going to start the press conference? I was going to say, ‘Hello. My name is Abner Mares, ex-Olympian, ex-bantamweight champion, ex-super bantamweight champion, ex-featherweight champion.’
“You know why? To remind people of what I’ve done. I think they forgot the type of adversity and styles I’ve been up against. They think this is something new, which it isn’t. This is just another fight for me.”
And a winnable one, according to Garcia.
The trainer compared this matchup to the bout between Adrien Broner and Marcos Maidana in 2013, Broner being the hot fighter at the time with tough, spirited Maidana as a significant underdog. The result: Maidana put Broner down twice and won a unanimous decision.
Garcia is convinced Mares will join a select group of Mexicans to win major titles in four divisions.
“Just like Davis, they said Broner is flashy, dangerous and this and that. But you all know what happened. Same thing is going to happen this time around,” he said.
Davis had a frustrating 2018. He had the victory over Cuellar but a lot of nothing beyond that, as he waited for matchups that never came. He sat around, got fat and stewed over his misfortune.
He’s determined to make up for lost time next year, when he plans to fight three times. A meeting with a marketable commodity like Mares, he reckoned, was a good place to start.
Davis will be fighting in his first main event in the United States before what organizers are confident will be a sell-out crowd of around 8,000 and a national audience on Showtime. That’s a big stage, particularly after a 10-month layoff.
And, naturally, he insists he’s not looking past Mares. For instance, the Baltimore resident said he headed straight from the airport in L.A. to the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in nearby Van Nuys yesterday so he wouldn’t miss a day of training to be at the press conference.
If things go well on February 9, opponents like fellow 130-pound titleholder Tevin Farmer or 135-pound champ Vasyl Lomachenko could lie ahead as Davis continues to pursue superstardom.
“I believe that Abner Mares is a future Hall of Famer, if you ask me,” Davis said. “He’s fought so many top-level guys. And this is my first time in a main event in the U.S. This is pretty big for me. I’m just blessed to be here.
“In 2019, I want to make a big statement, not only in the ring but by letting the boxing world know that I’m the next star. I’m aiming to headline a pay-per-view by 2020 if everything goes right. I have great fights lined up for next year, without looking past Abner. … Our future is bright.”
Unless Mares gets in the way.
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.