Even matchups in boxing are as rare as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is in the United States. So when Yonnhy Perez and Abner Mares meet on the undercard of Vazquez-Marquez IV at the Staples Center, it almost makes one feel as if a mistake has been made somewhere along the line. Did someone sign the wrong paperwork while cross-eyed on Cutty Sark? If so, this is one drunken escapade almost everyone can live with, since Perez-Mares ought to be a riveting fight.
The two bantamweights, both top 10 fighters, are nicely matched. Mares, 20-0 (13), seems to be the slicker of the two, has better footwork, and has the faster hands. Perez, meanwhile, has fought better competition, has proven his mettle under tougher circumstances, and might have the slight edge in power. With only 20 fights apiece, they are also both relatively inexperienced.
Despite beating Silence Mabuza and Joseph Agbeko in his last two fights, for example, Perez, 20-0 (14), is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. Against Mabuza, who is probably past his peak, Perez was behind on the cards before scoring a stoppage in the final round. Agbeko, whose stock might have been overrated based on a sloppy win over Vic Darchinyan, pushed Perez to the edge in a rousing shootout last Halloween. Both fights showed Perez had heart and determination to go along with a solid if unspectacular skill set. But is solid enough to get by Mares? A 2004 Olympian with fast hands and smooth boxing skills, Mares has been sidetracked by a detached retina, but has the kind of natural talent that can make ring rust irrelevant within two or three rounds.
So far in his brief career, Mares has shown an ability to box from the outside or apply pressure behind quick combinations and body shots. Once in a while Mares reaches from outside to land right hands to the body, leaving himself open, potentially, to lefts. Apart from a stinging jab, Perez has a fairly compact left hook, one he frequently doubles up. This flaw might have Perez working his left overtime and in combination. If Mares, Montebello, California, via Guadalajara, decides to be aggressive, he might be giving up his advantage as the more skillful boxer. If Mares decides to box from the outside, Perez, 31, will be looking to keep busy with his jab in order to keep Mares from developing a rhythm.
Mares works well from the perimeter and can probably outbox Perez, who is a little too mechanical at times, for long stretches. In that case, it will be up to Perez, Santa Fe Springs, California, but originally from Colombia, to draw Mares out and force openings. If so, he might be able to land a fight-changing shot. Neither fighter has been down as a pro. Perez seemed rattled early by Jospeh Agbeko, but kept his composure and returned fire. Mares took a few clean shots from Filipino veteran Diosdado Gabi in the first round of their 2008 scrap, but showed no ill-effects and blasted Gabi out in the following round. Still, the powerpuncher appears to be Perez. Mares, 24, might not want to find himself trading hard blows in mid-ring.
Both fighters had fantastic amateur careers, but Perez has made a bigger mark as pro so far, beating Agbeko, Mabuza, and a couple solid journeymen. With the possible exception of Diosdad Gabi, Mares has only beaten club fighters, and Perez represents his biggest challenge since turning pro in 2005. Consequently, Mares may not be prepared to go heads-up against an opponent as tough as Perez appears to be. This issue–or non-issue–will, of course, be settled when the bell rings, but right now Perez is the proven commodity. Mares will have to raise his game to a level beyond the cruise control required to outclass “Fight Night Club” fodder. It remains to be seen if he can manage that against a quality opponent.
Although Mares is probably more talented–all-around–than Perez, the gap in skill is not unbridgeable, and Perez will be bringing ambition into the ring with him as well as some moves Mares has not seen yet from the likes of Felipe Almanza and Carlos Fulgencio.
On the other hand, Mares and Perez have sparred plenty over the last few years, and some of those sessions might have given Team Mares the idea that Perez might be easy pickings. Mares also won two out of three bouts against Perez in the amateurs. This a very difficult fight to call, but Perez just might be able to offset disadvantages by working harder than mares.
In a close and exciting bout, possibly a split decision, Perez should be able to squeeze out the win.