Saturday night on Showtime, young Mexican-American star Abner Mares looks to claim a world title in a second weight class when he faces Puerto Rican veteran Eric Morel in the 12-round main event from El Paso. Mares has broken out as one of Showtime's key players since debuting on the network in 2010. He's gone 3-0-1 on Showtime facing nothing but world-class opponents, and now it could be argued he's taken a half-step or so back as he moves up to the 122-pound division.
Super Bantamweights, 12 Rounds (Vacant WBC Title)
Abner Mares vs Eric Morel
Mares (23-0-1, 13 KO) has made his bones with four straight grueling fights, jumping from the softies up to the\ major stage without really missing a beat. In May 2010, he and Yonnhy Perez stole the show on the ill-conceived Vazquez vs Marquez IV card, going to a draw in an entertaining bout. He then bravely entered Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament against veterans of the big fights, defeating Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko to win the tournament, followed by a win over Agbeko in a rematch of their controversial first fight.
Moreno Looking to Take Top Spot | Mares: Life Outside the Ring | Final Press Conference
Still just 26, the former U.S. Olympian Mares now moves up in weight before overstaying his welcome at 118. While some may have wished for Golden Boy's first homegrown world titleholder to stay around and truly dominate the division before moving on, there's really just one fight that stood in the way of his being truly the undisputed top bantamweight, and that was a bout with Anselmo Moreno, which Golden Boy didn't want to rush into at the time, feeling there's plenty of calendar left (so long as the Mayans aren't right) to get those two into the ring.
So he goes up to super bantamweight, where Nonito Donaire debuted in February. For all of the chatter about Donaire and Mares fighting each other, it's almost an impossible dream. Donaire is promoted by Top Rank, which makes him a no-go to face GBP's Mares. I'm sure the two fighters would take the bout -- neither of them has shown any reluctance to take on good opponents, and both have displayed a healthy drive to be considered The Man.
Luckily for Mares, he won't likely be facing any big physical changes in opponents, as Morel (46-2, 23 KO) isn't a natural super bantamweight either. The Puerto Rican, nicknamed "Little Hands of Stone" for reasons that haven't fit in over a decade, came into the pro ranks in 1996 as a flyweight. He won his first major title at 112 pounds in August 2000, defeating Thailand's Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym via very wide decision in a rare world title fight in Wisconsin, where Morel still lives. (That show also featured future middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik's second pro fight, for a bit of useless trivia.)
Morel became a top flyweight until losing the belt in Puerto Rico to then-unbeaten Lorenzo Parra in December 2003, making six successful defenses of his title. After the loss to Parra, Morel moved to super flyweight, where he won a couple fights before being smoked by titleholder Martin Castillo in March 2005 on the Morales-Pacquiao I undercard.
After that, well, there's no way to get around this: Eric Morel went to prison for sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. He served some time and was released a bit early, doing the rest of his time under extended supervision. The conviction and sentence saw him lose three years of his boxing prime, as he didn't fight again until February 2008.
Since that return to the ring, Morel has not lost a fight, going 11-0, though he did get a very, very debatable decision win over Gerry Penalosa in February 2010, a fight most observers felt he'd lost. He's been on Golden Boy's backburner for a while now, fighting substandard opponents on the undercards of their more important fighters, being saved up in case Golden Boy needed him for a main event at some point. During his 11-0 run, his opponents have been journeymen and club fighters for the most part, with Penalosa as a standout.
The time for the Morel main event is here, though. And he's getting this fight for one very big reason: He's probably not a big challenge for Mares, who is younger, stronger, faster, fresher, and better. Morel has never been the same over 112 pounds, and now at 122 and at age 36, it seems highly unlikely that the former top flyweight will reawaken a career that has been fairly well stagnant since that 2005 blowout loss to Castillo. He's been kept on the shelf specifically to be brought as an opponent for someone like Mares.
While Morel has spent the last four years rebuilding a career that was basically flushed down the drain in 2005, and doing it against mostly soft opposition, Mares has been developing into a world class professional bantamweight, and has since blossomed into the top fighter in that weight class by most measures. He's spent his last four bouts toe-to-toe with the likes of Perez, Darchinyan, and Agbeko, while Morel has fought Juan Jose Beltran, a shot Luis Maldonado, Daniel Quevedo, and Jose Silveira, and gotten older and further from his peak every step of the way.
To be blunt, I don't think there was ever an Eric Morel that could have beaten this Abner Mares. At his best, he was a flyweight. Over that weight, he's achieved very little in meaningful fights, had his career interrupted for three years, and returned a declining, fading fighter, which is how he'll enter this fight.
If Mares gets on a roll, I won't be surprised at all if a cornerman or the referee eventually has to step in and stop this thing. Mare is on a different level, and Morel has no significant advantage in this fight -- even in terms of "experience," his best days are so far behind him that it doesn't really mean much, and Mares has spent two years fighting at the top of the sport, too. I like Mares to steamroll his way through this fight and receive little if any resistance from the Puerto Rican veteran, in what should be Morel's last opportunity at a major title. Mares via TKO-9.