Golden Boy promoter Oscar de la Hoya isn't shy about dreaming big on fighters in his company. He never has been. Sometimes, it winds up sounding like nothing but a dream. But you can't really blame him in the case of bantamweight Abner Mares, who is currently preparing for his April 23 showdown with Joseph Agbeko in the finals of Showtime's four-man tournament.
"I'm really excited that Abner is the first fighter who turned professional with us and now he's fighting for a world title. That's exciting for us. We're a young company and we have many world champions, but Abner is our first that we had from the start."
The 25-year-old Mares has certainly come into his own. After coming up barely "short" in a hard-fought draw against Yonnhy Perez last year, Mares proved his confidence and guts by signing up for the all-elite tournament with Showtime. On December 11, he defeated Vic Darchinyan to earn his way into the tournament final against Agbeko, who beat Perez in the other semifinal.
But Agbeko is a new challenge. Darchinyan, though a very good fighter and a very good win for Mares, is fighting heavy at bantamweight. Agbeko is a natural at the weight, and a double-tough fighter who isn't easy to deter. The former Mexican Olympian is looking forward to another tough battle.
"It's a great fight. Agbeko is an amazing fighter," said Mares. "Not many fighters lose a title and come back stronger to win it. He's hungry and I know he doesn't want to lose that title again, but I'm here to prove myself, to prove that I'm the best 118 pounder and win this tournament.
"I want to go out and give the fans a good fight. With Agbeko's style and my style, the fight has to be interesting. We can't put on a bad fight."
Mares also isn't stopping there -- he wants Nonito Donaire after the tournament.
"I'm here to fight the best - that's why I'm facing Agbeko and that's why I want to fight Donaire after I win this thing."
While Donaire-Mares is unlikely (to say the very least) given the current promotional brawl over the Filipino star between Golden Boy and rival Top Rank, it's clear that Mares isn't looking to go easy. And while Oscar says it's inevitable that Mares will move up in weight, they both think there are yet battles to wage at 118 pounds.
"Eventually, after this tournament, we want him to keep on facing the best fighters out there," said Oscar. "I believe he'll go up one or two divisions, but he still has some work to do here at 118 pounds. He has the talent and speed and power to move up in weight."
First, though, he has to get past Agbeko on April 23. With a win, Golden Boy's first homegrown titlist would be on his way to being the firm's next breakout star. The timing couldn't be better.