Monday, April 23, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Mares and Moreno

Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno cruised this weekend to one-sided victories over Eric Morel and David De La Mora, respectively. These wins were lopsided because both victors fought to the best of their abilities. Their opponents were credible guys – De La Mora lost a close championship fight in 2011 to house fighter Koki Kameda and Morel was a former titleholder and U.S. Olympian (granted in a smaller weight class) who came into the fight with a long winning streak.

Neither Mares nor Moreno fell into the traps that have become all too common in modern boxing. They didn't look past their opponents and came into their fights in great condition. Mares and Moreno weren't taking their premium U.S. cable slots lightly; they had reputations to build. These were two hungry boxers looking to impress upon the fight community that they were ready for bigger things.

Moreno, as he did last year against Vic Darchinyan, toyed with De La Mora. He demonstrated his pristine defensive skills and elusiveness. However, Moreno didn't run; he stayed in the pocket and was ready to fight.

He also showed a more offensive mindset this weekend. Instead of looking just to counterpunch, Moreno took the lead several times throughout the fight. In the first round, he established his dominance with his right hook. In a masterful display, the southpaw threw a sharp right hook and quickly stepped to his right, in effect turning De La Mora with just one punch. Moreno wisely observed that his opponent couldn't respond to lateral movement.

Moreno also exhibited more power than he had in his previous fights. He knocked down De La Mora with a blistering right hook in the second round and dropped him with a punishing straight left hand body shot in the sixth. He wasn't content just to touch his opponent and win rounds; he was trying to cause damage. 

Throughout the fight, Moreno's punch variety and movements made De La Mora uncomfortable.  De La Mora didn't know how to defend himself against Moreno's creativity and fluid movements. Moreno's expert punch placement compounded De La Mora's difficulties in the fight.  At various points, De La Mora literally ran around the ring to avoid engaging with Moreno.

In addition, Moreno highlighted his first-class footwork. He made De La Mora miss with pivots and upper body movement, but he never let himself get out of range for counterpunching opportunities.

De La Mora failed to come out for the start of the ninth round, giving Moreno an unexpected stoppage. It was an important performance for Moreno. He showed that he could be offensive-minded and aggressive. Often labeled as a "cutie," or a slick boxer who didn't like to engage, Moreno wanted to make a statement that he could be more TV-friendly and entertaining; he succeeded.

Moreno has ascended to become one of the top defensive boxers in the sport. De La Mora landed well below 20% of his shots.  Physically and psychologically, De La Mora seemed demoralized by Moreno's skills, hand speed and intelligence.

Next for Moreno most likely will be a move up to junior featherweight, where some enormous names loom. He stated after the fight that he wants Nonito Donaire, but I don't see Top Rank risking its star for that type of risky proposition. Mares could be another possibility. The thought of a clash against Japan's Toshiaki Nishioka, which would be a battle of two slick and fast southpaws, has my mind racing.

Abner Mares emerged from the meat grinder of Showtime's bantamweight tournament as the victor. His fights against Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko were grueling affairs. A prospect entering the tournament, he was forced to mature against those aggressive opponents. He proved to be the best of the tournament, but he was not yet a finished product. 

The thought process for Team Mares behind this fight was for their boxer to move up in weight against a guy who wasn't a big puncher. Although the bout wasn't exactly a respite or a stay-busy exercise for Mares, it did provide him with a break from the types of aggressive brawlers whom he had been facing. Those fighters shorten careers.   

To Mares' credit, he didn't take Morel lightly. Within the first two rounds, he established his straight right hand and left hook. Mares also brought a new wrinkle to the fight with a looping right hand. Essentially, Morel's high guard was blocking a lot of straight shots, so Mares took a step back and fired some looping rights; they pasted Morel's left side of his head.

Mares dominated the first half of the match. He led wonderfully with his jab and followed up with his impressive array of power shots. He continually went hard to Morel's body with his left hook and showed a nice uppercut in close range. His defense in the first half of the fight looked much tighter than it had in his recent bouts.

As the fight progressed, Mares became more undisciplined, resorting to some of the wildness that had surfaced in the Darchinyan and Agbeko bouts. Though he was never in danger of getting hurt or giving up rounds (I had Mares winning by a shutout), he got tagged a bit over the last few rounds of the fight. Mares' defense got sloppy at points, but clearly his chin held up fine from Morel's shots.  

For better or for worse, Mares sees himself as a brawler. It makes for great TV and pleases fans. However, it wouldn't be too hard to imagine a skillful master like Moreno or a power puncher like Donaire having success against Mares, especially when he squares up to start brawling.

I'm interested to see if Mares' power plays at the new weight. Morel had a sturdy chin and all of the veteran survival tricks. Mares hit him with everything but Morel was never in danger of going down. One more note on this topic: in Mares' five fights at the world-class level, he hasn't knocked anyone out. However, he's faced some very good fighters and is still improving; it's possible that more power (if he's fighting at a more comfortable weight class or tightens his technique) may still come. If Mares' power doesn't carry to 122, he'll need to make some adjustments to remain a top fighter at his new weight.

I would favor Moreno over Mares if they ever fought. I think Moreno's accuracy and elusiveness would be just enough to better Mares' aggressive banging. But all fighters get hit. It would be up to Mares to keep his shots short and capitalize on all of his opportunities. Mares-Moreno is a fight that I really want to see.

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