Abner Mares' manager Frankie Espinoza tweeted this morning that the fighter has officially vacated his IBF bantamweight title in order to move up to 122 pounds in the near future.
Mares (23-0-1, 13 KO) had an odd 2011 that included a long wait, a controversial win, and then a strong performance that made clear he was a real deal top fighter, all of that coming with Joseph Agbeko and the IBF title involved.
After defeating Vic Darchinyan in December 2010, Mares was set to face Joseph Agbeko in the finals bout of Showtime's four-man bantamweight box-off. But that was postponed when Agbeko came down with sudden onset sciatica, canceling their April date and rescheduling the fight for August.
The August date was maybe the most controversial fight of 2011, as Mares landed an obscene amount of low blows en route to a decision win, which ultimate resulted in referee Russell Mora being demoted to lower-tier fights by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
But Mares took the controversy and turned it into a rematch, which the IBF had ordered, and the two met again on December 3, with Mares winning more convincingly in the rematch.
Recently, the IBF ordered Mares to fight mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga of South Africa. Malinga (20-3-1, 12 KO) has been inactive since October 2010, which is in large part because he's been sitting on his mandatory title shot. It's hard to give a fighter a lot of respect for sitting and waiting and using that mandatory status to not fight, and with Malinga's lack of name value and likely lack of interest from American TV networks, it's also hard to blame Mares and his team for just vacating the belt and moving on.
Malinga got the title shot for winning an eliminator against Michael Domingo, and that's all that's been asked of him, but it's a low-reward sort of fight for Mares at this stage of his career.
What Mares will be doing is returning to the ring in Mexico on April 21, as Golden Boy is putting together a card that will also likely feature Anselmo Moreno, who may now be the default top bantamweight in the world with Mares intending to move up and Nonito Donaire having just left the division.
The IBF title will be decided between Malinga and AJ Banal, the once heavily-hyped Filipino prospect who has since quieted down and gone about his business, running up a record of 26-1-1 (19 KO). Banal, 23, hasn't lost since his knockout defeat at the hands of Rafael Concepcion in 2008.