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'Reborn' Abner Mares returns from first-round knockout

Abner Mares says he's been 'reborn' after crushing loss last August to Jhonny Gonzalez

Over an 18-month stretch that culminated in May 2013, Abner Mares won world boxing titles in three divisions.

Then, in just 2 minutes 55 seconds last August, the Southland fighter’s world came crashing down in a stunning first-round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez at StubHub Center.

Saturday night, in the primary undercard fight before Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s junior-middleweight Showtime pay-per-view main event against Cuba’s Erislandy Lara, Mares (26-1-1, 14 knockouts) meets Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo (24-3, 16 KOs) at MGM Grand.

“This is my return fight to make a statement … I have a great circle of people around me now, I’m 100% focused on my career and winning this fight gets me back on top,” Mares said Thursday.

The Hawaiian Gardens product has split with trainer Clemente Medina, hiring super-middleweight champion Andre Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter, and is estranged from longtime manager Frank Espinoza.

From December 2011 until May 2013, Mares beat Joseph Agbeko for the bantamweight world title, Anselmo Moreno for a super-bantamweight belt, then scored a technical knockout of Daniel Ponce de Leon to win the World Boxing Council featherweight belt. 

Mares said of the Gonzalez loss, “I can make up so many excuses … it happened, I lost, and it’s helped me grow as a fighter.”

Gonzalez swarmed Mares to originally deck him last August. Instead of going to a more protective mode, Mares again was positioned to exchange when Gonzalez battered him again, ending the bout.

Mares signed on for a February rematch, but suffered a rib injury in training, and Gonzalez proceeded to fight in Mexico in May.

Mares formerly entered the ring wearing a skull mask. He said as part of his new image for Saturday’s bout he’ll don a revised mask showing half a skull and the other half showing his face. He also spoke in Spanish at the news conference Thursday, talking up his pride in his native Mexico.

Getting the attention of a “Canelo” pay-per-view audience can help return Mares to the stature of being a key player in a division deepened with the talent of Vasyl Lomachenko, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Mikey Garcia.

Mares said when he was injured, “my mind was blocked … so I took a long vacation with my two daughters. Emotionally, I took advantage of the time off. … Now, Abner Mares is reborn.”

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