Abner Mares just seems lighter than most. He carries himself with a cool confidence that makes it look like he’s floating through the gym rather than other boxers that plod to the next training session.
Then again, it could be the levity that comes with returning to the sport you love, feeling the weight of previous pressure lift from the shoulders. Yeah, man. Mares is definitely lighter these days.
“I don't have the pressure on my back,” he tells En Fuego at a recent training session as he prepares to take on Miguel Flores. “I'm going in there, bro, to have fun. I want to go out there and just to enjoy myself.
“I made a career out of this sport already. Four-time, three-division world champion, ex-Olympian in 2004, boxing analyst. I mean, you name it, I've done it.”
I meet up with Mares at his South Gate boxing gym, a tucked-away oasis for boxers who don't mind sweltering heat as long as Grupo Firme is adding ambiance to the workout.
There is no redemption in this tour. There’s no “trying to prove himself” as you might see in other comeback stories. Mares is here because he loves the sport.
He didn’t know whether he would be able to walk into the ring on a card like this. His last fight was in 2018, a loss to Léo Santa Cruz at the then-Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena), the site of his comeback fight on Sunday.
At that time, bigger and greater things were ahead. He was supposed to fight Gervonta Davis, a bout that would have catapulted Mares to even greater heights. While the 36-year-old does a great job of being present, you can still tell he’s hungry for the fight that never occurred.
A Dark Place
Just days prior to the fight in 2019, Mares suffered a detached retina in his right eye. The same injury occurred 11 years prior when he was diagnosed with a detached retina in the left eye.
Now he didn’t exactly retire from the sport. Mares is quick to point out that he purposefully left the door slightly ajar on stepping into the ring.
But after that disappointment, he went to a dark place. He is refreshingly candid about mental health and the demons he had to battle when his career took that surprising turn.
“When the cameras are on, obviously, you guys see interviews, you guys see us fighting, but, you don't see what's going on,” he tells me from the middle of his ring in South Gate.
“I got stuck in a dark place,” he admits. At the moment, the realization that his career was put on indefinite hold was still raw. The promise of what could have been in the immediate future clouded what could be outside of the ring.
“But that's the dark side,” he said. “I was selfish because I was just thinking about myself and, so the advice I would like to give people that are going through dark moments, you know, don't focus just on yourself.”
It’s that support system that helped him get out of a hole that had to feel at times like an abyss. He is here to motivate anyone going through similar turmoil, “There's (those) people around you that love you.”
Don't Call It a Comeback
For the span of the last few years, Mares has found a home just outside the ring as an analyst with Showtime Championship Boxing. His personality and cool insight have been the hallmark of a commentator on the rise.
Now he’s back to this place. Watching his diet, ramping up the workouts from weekly to every waking moment.
He also mentions something that I hadn’t considered. There are a lot of people out there who do have setbacks that aren’t able to relive those good ol’ days. The calendar on their special moments have long since expired.
He’s a four-time champion, reaching the apex of the sport through three weight divisions. He’s as decorated as they come. Getting a shot to walk back into the ring and leave on his terms doesn’t escape him.
“I mean, I've done it all, really,” he said. “And so getting this opportunity at age 36, four years later, to be stepping back on a Pay-Per-View main card. I mean well, I mean, this is, this is life fulfilling. This is, I'm living a dream right now.”
His previous bouts carried with them additional weight. It wasn’t the gloves or the extra mileage of training camps, but the pressure that comes from fighting for others. Whether it be to lengthen his career, put a cap on his legacy, or just put food on the table, every fight before had an extra dimension of pressure.
He’s adamant that the pressure is off on Sunday. He is fighting for himself. However, he is quick to point out that this dream he is living is significant beyond his immediate circle.
“I'm living someone else's dream,” he points out. “And that's why I'm taking full advantage of it. Because how many people would not love to be in my position right now? Thousands of people. Billions of people? And for me to not take it seriously, it's really it's disrespectful.”
He knows there are other boxers, other people in myriad professions. Countless individuals are never granted an opportunity to go back and relive their passion.
Enjoying the Moment
This weekend Mares gets to do it again. Whether he leaves victorious or is delivered a loss, he is going into the endeavor with the ever-so-cool smile he flashes when he talks about the sport.
When it comes down to it, the dude just loves to box.
After four years away from competition, Mares sees things with stark clarity. “I'm just enjoying my moment. I'm enjoying my time. This could be my last fight. I'm seeing it like that. So why not make the best of it?”
At 36, it’s easy to say that Mares is going into his bout with Miguel Flores with the advantage of wisdom. But wisdom doesn’t have to be weighted with any amount of gravity. Sometimes it’s the realization after years in the ring that this entire pugilistic enterprise can be enjoyable.
Mares is determined to remind people that he is “a bad mother f***er” in the ring. Make no mistake that his levity isn’t nonchalance. His cool demeanor doesn’t come without a charge. I submit that a boxer who moves with such agility can be even more dangerous to his opponent.
“Why am I going to pressure myself to please the people that are wanting me to lose, win, whatever it is? No, I already did that. You know, I already fought for you people, for the fans, for even, for my wife, for my kids. I fought for you guys already my entire life. This is about me now. It's about just enjoying the moment. So when you put all that in perspective in your mind and just think that way, I mean, things just come out different.”
Mares isn’t the same boxer that he was when he last fought. He’s older. He’s wiser. He has the boxing analyst’s pedigree of studying the sport. He also has something that is often missing in this sport. That's perspective.
“You know, the way you speak in your mindset, the way even work is not even work anymore,” he continued. "It's light, you know, it's enjoyable.”