It's too bad that there are just a handful of fights each year as true and right as Abner Mares vs. Anselmo Moreno, due on Showtime Saturday after a prolonged tease that never looked like it would come to climax.
And if not for a needless, endless war between promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank, we might not have even got it; Mares, a Golden Boy fighter, would rather be facing Nonito Donaire, a Top Rank fighter, and really, most fans would prefer that one, too. But in the top-heavy junior featherweight division, this is two of the four best men (Guillermo Rigondeaux and Donaire being the other two) squaring off in a risky style clash that is one of the best fights in boxing regardless of what the other half of 122 is doing.
Hell, these are two of the best fighters on the planet right now overall. It's the kind of fight that gets you giddy thinking about it.
ABNER MARES-ANSELMO MORENO
Let's back up slightly: Mares is really proven only as a bantamweight, as his lone fight since moving up to junior featherweight full-time was against blown-up bantamweight Eric Morel at a catchweight of 120 pounds. But that's OK: Moreno is making his big-league 122-pound debut. If both were still at 118, this would be deciding a new lineal champion, but there was bigger money at 122 for Mares so that's why it's happening there.
One of the best kind of fights you can make in boxing is this kind, where the two men profile as the riskiest available opponents for the other stylistically. Mares has never faced anyone like Moreno, a pure boxer with excellent speed, slippery defense and counterpunching who can make the most aggressive brawlers look like fools. Mares has the precise style to defuse someone like Moreno, a combination-punching, body-punching attack that ain't too proud to besmirch a fight with a little outright cheating.
Both, too, are extremely battle-tested. Mares' gauntlet pre-Morel was one of the most intimidating in boxing: Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko twice, Yonnhy Perez. Moreno also took on Darchinyan, and his list of opponents prior represent the best of a pre-Showtime bantamweight tournament era, names like Volodymyr Sydorenko and Mahyar Monshipour. I'm not one to get hung up on records, but when two men this battle-tested have appeared in 60 combined fights and have just one loss and two draws — and the loss by Moreno was avenged, and the draw on Mares' record is a questionable one — it means something.
Overall, I think of Moreno as the better fighter. Mares is good at everything, but Moreno is good at everything, too, and great at one thing, namely defense. But that doesn't account for styles. Mares' style is the one more popular with judges — he throws more punches and lands more. It's also the kind of style that could wear down Moreno's top-notch defense. Moreno's defense is multifacted; he moves well on his feet, he creates a small target by standing completely sideways, he ducks shots and neutralizes attacks with clinches, he counterpunches to make opponents throw fewer punches. But Mares is generally not going to care if three of the punches in his four-punch combos misses, and because some of those punches are body punches (or, worse, low blows) the approach serves to wear down someone like Moreno and do more damage than a defensive maestro like Moreno is used to suffering.
Mares is the physically stronger of the two, but physical dimensions overall favor Moreno, a longer fighter who will be able to use his jab to control range, although Mares will surely try to establish his own quality jab while working his way inside. Mentally, I'll give a slight edge to Mares — he always seems to find a way to win, as our Alex McClintock noted earlier this week. But Moreno's a sharp dude, and he's shown a similar toughness to Mares' as far as taking a good punch.
Moreno's no Arturo Gatti, but since debuting on Showtime, he's been more aggressive offensively, while Mares is nothing if not a good show. I expect we'll see an above-average Moreno fight and a slightly below-average Mares fight, in terms of heated exchanges. And I think Moreno will edge by on the cards. Mares might have the home court advantage, and he might have the more judge-pleasing style, but Moreno can land some eye-catching punches at times, the bullseye shots, and I think he'll win the style clash.