By Derek Bonnett
The clash between Jesus Andres Cuellar and Abner Mares finally came to fruition following some delays in what was truly one of the year’s most intriguing match-ups. The WBA featherweight champion Cuellar took on the former multi-division champion Mares at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles, California, USA. The Showtime televised bout served as the main event of the evening for a two fight televised card also spotlighting Jermell Charlo’s final junior middleweight title defense against Julian "J Rock" Williams.
In the end, the scores would be split, but the educated eye witnessed a master class performance by Abner Mares to become a four-time world champion. Matters looked tense in the opening seconds as a clash of heads occurred, but both the Mexican and Argentine fighter emerged unscathed. Mares showed better movement than in previous outings and focused on boxing to land in combination and avoid too much time in the pocket where Cuellar would be most dangerous. A left hook jarred the champion in the first. Cuellar upped his output in the second, but Mares was able to avoid many of the sweeping punches from the champion. A good left did tag mares on the beard, but the challenger responded in kind with well-timed one-twos. The third round saw Cuellar wide and wild with his shots and Mares easily countered the champion with fast combos to build his lead. Mares landed a big right hand down the middle on Cuellar and later followed with a left hook. Cuellar failed to cut off the ring an continually allowed Mares to be first and dictate the world title fight. In the fifth, Mares counterpunching was perhaps at its most exceptional for the night. Mares continued to box well, particularly off the ropes in round six. The challenger pivoted well to slow down the punch output of Cuellar and stay out of range. Mares began doubling the jab to further the distance. After six rounds, SecondsOut’s unofficial score-card favored Mares 60-54.
Cuellar won his first round on my unofficial card in round seven and, overall, did better over the last half of the bout. Cuellar did better with more economic one-twos down the middle and snapped Mares head back halfway through the round. Mares still moved, but know he was more on the defense. Cuellar’s punch output climbed through the eighth and ninth rounds where he was able to pick up some points with better combination punching as Mares slowed a tad. Cuellar upped his pressure down the stretch, but the fleet-footed Mares stayed out of range and clinched on the inside to avoid anything dangerous. The challenger dropped the champion in round eleven with a perfectly placed right hook. The knockdown opened up some nice insurance for Mares as he looked on his way to reclaiming a belt in the division. Mares fought safely in the final frame while Cuellar wisely pressed knowing his belts were on the line. The final bell sounded and both fighters showed their respect in a nicely contested bout between a class of styles reminiscent of the adjustments Marco Antonio Barrera made to defeat Prince Naseem Hamed.
The official scores were somehow split. However, Mares stole the title with two scores of 117-110 and 116-111. The third judged favored Cuellar 115-113. SecondsOut also saw the bout 116-111 for Mares. Mares, a three division champion, upped his dossier to 30-2-1 (15). Cuellar fell to 28-2-0 (21).