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Los Angeles knows Abner Mares well. The former three-division champion has fought for and won belts at Staples Center, USC’s Galen Center and the newly named Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.
When Mares returns to the former StubHub Center on Feb. 9 on Showtime to seek a fourth belt against unbeaten World Boxing Assn. super-featherweight champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis, he risks passing a torch to a fighter who aspires to have national reach.
“I want to make a big statement to let the boxing world know in 2019 that I’m the next big star,” Davis said. “I’m aiming for a pay-per-view in 2020.”
At 24, the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-promoted Davis (20-0, 19 knockouts) fought just once in 2018. The Baltimore product became a father for the first time and grumbled about his manager, Al Haymon, not keeping him busier, while some around Davis questioned his dedication.
“He will absolutely fight three times this year,” Mayweather Promotions President Leonard Ellerbe said. “He made some changes in his life and became more focused, got to know himself better and Feb. 9 is the start of the takeover.
“He will be the guy on the highlights, the one the stars are talking about. The slate is clean, the past is behind and he’s going to be very active, knocking people out. It’s his coming out party.”
Davis was convincing in that role last week when he came to the Conga Room at L.A. Live for his news conference with the 33-year-old Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs).
“I feel I’m the best fighter at 130 to 135 pounds … I think I hit harder than Deontay Wilder,” Davis said, startling opinions when it’s considered that Mikey Garcia and Vasiliy Lomachenko wear lightweight belts. “I don’t know what [Mares] sees, but Al [Haymon] asked him, ‘Are you sure?’ Obviously, he sees something. But my power, speed, movement — I’m an all-around better fighter.
“And I’ve seen other prospects lose. I understand you can’t underestimate your opponent. You have to respect everyone and treat them equal to you.”
That humble turn is a course-changing move following the brashness Davis showed when he was put on the Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard as a showcase opportunity, then missed weight.
He said the most important influence Mayweather has provided him is old fight footage when the now-retired 41-year-old was known as “Pretty Boy.”
“I’ve studied his career, how he adapts to whatever’s in front of him, and how he lived his lifestyle back then — not the flashy stuff,” Davis said. “For this fight, I look at him versus [Arturo] Gatti every night before I sleep.”
In that 2005 bout, Mayweather trekked to Gatti’s home state of New Jersey for his first pay-per-view and dominated the forward fighter, forcing him to stop after six rounds.
Davis sees parallels in how Mares will fight him.
“I know what’s coming and still watch it so I can remind myself what I’m in front of,” Davis said. “‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd was a fighter. It’s all about being focused on my job and getting Abner out of there. He’s begging for an ass-whipping.”
A unification with International Boxing Federation champion Tevin Farmer could loom for Davis, and he envisions a bout in “two to three years” against unbeaten Victorville lightweight Ryan Garcia. The pair verbally scuffled at a card in Las Vegas last year.
“I want to let him grow first, let him mature. I don’t want to get him now. He’s still a kid,” Davis said of Garcia. “He’s still building up, still getting used to the game. I’m still getting my feet wet now. Let the fight build. He will be a star for sure. He reminds me of Oscar [De La Hoya]. That’s a possible pay-per-view fight. I’m just waiting.”
Leap of faith
Mares, meanwhile, sees the fight as his opportunity to stamp himself among the elite Mexican fighters of all time.
“This fight was not given to me. It was by choice. Al Haymon called me offering me [World Boxing Council featherweight champion] Gary Russell or Josh Warrington — there were so many options [at 126 pounds], and the money is the same as I’m getting in this upper weight class,” Mares said.
“But I chose this fight because I see flaws on the kid. I see an opportunity to become a champion in a fourth weight division, and I feel it’s for the legacy of my career. Becoming a champion against a tough competitor like Gervonta is — people talk about him as the next Floyd Mayweather, the next superstar. I like these types of fights that bring out the best in me. Because if people don’t know by now, Abner Mares is always willing to fight any opposition, style, shape or form as long as it brings excitement.”
Mares is boosted by the brotherhood of his trainer Robert Garcia’s gym in Riverside, where Garcia’s younger brother, Mikey, is training to move up two weight classes in his March 16 pay-per-view against Errol Spence Jr. and veteran Josesito Lopez is training as a longshot against another unbeaten welterweight champion, Keith Thurman.
“We work hard and at the end of the day the results will be on our side in all three fights,” Robert Garcia said. “It’s a huge challenge. I spoke to Abner — ‘There are other, exciting fights we can take,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I want to challenge myself. I want to be recognized as one of the fighters who takes those challenges.’ Now, we have to train to win. Mikey, same thing. There’s a lot of other options for him too, but they want to prove to everybody it’s possible. They know themselves.”
Mares said at the news conference, “I’m not stupid. I’m not stuttering. I see something.
“[Davis] might have a little more strength, but the conditioning will speak for itself from the training.”
Less than a week after discounted tickets went on sale, Los Angeles impressively showed up for Saturday’s UFC show at the Forum, and the first half of 2019 reveals the Southland’s more muscular standing as a location for fight cards of all levels.
Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live will stage the Jan. 13 super-middleweight title fight between Jose Uzcategui and Caleb Plant and Leo Santa Cruz’s Feb. 16 featherweight title defense against Mexico’s Miguel Flores — one week after Davis-Mares.
Bellator MMA has its heavyweight grand prix final Jan. 26 at the Forum, and Lomachenko is scheduled for a lightweight unification April 12 at Staples Center.
“This has proven to be a good market, and I expect more of the fights like this to come here,” said Ellerbe, after Mikey Garcia fought at Staples along with Santa Cruz-Mares last year.
Davis-Mares fight promoter Richard Schaefer, who’s handling some of Haymon’s pay-per-views, said, “Los Angeles is becoming the fight capital of the United States again because of the venues — the ‘war grounds,’ [in Carson] and Staples, the busiest arena in the world — and so many great fighters are from here. It’s the place to be.
“The biggest fights will still go to Las Vegas, because we have a responsibility to make the most money from the gates and there’s no state income taxes there.”
But Schaefer said bouts like Davis-Mares are ideal for Los Angeles because of the enthusiasm and knowledge of the local crowd.
“No question,” Schaefer said. “Las Vegas is reserved for super-fights, but Los Angeles is now hosting these world-championship fights on a regular basis, and the fan support is unbelievable. Los Angeles is the fight town.”
Until next time