Abner Mares raised his hands in victory right before the final bell, and he dropped to his knees in relief moments later. A few months after his boxing career appeared to be in jeopardy, he was a champion again. Mares knocked down Jesus Cuellar in the 11th round and hung on for a split-decision victory Saturday night to claim Cuellar’s WBA featherweight title. “I’m so glad to be called a world champion again,” Mares said. “It means the world to me.”
Mares (30-2-1) earned his fourth world title in three weight classes with a resourceful performance against Cuellar (28-2). The powerful Argentine champion hadn’t lost in 11 fights since October 2011, but Mares punctuated his effort with a big right hand early in the 11th round, sending the champion sprawling onto his backside.
Two judges favored Mares 117-110 and 116-111, while a third scored it for Cuellar, 115-112. The Associated Press scored it 115-112 for Mares. Jermall Charlo also defended his IBF 154-pound belt with a fifth-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Julian Williams at the downtown Galen Center on USC’s campus. The third title defense for Charlo (25-0, 19 KOs) ended uncomfortably with the crowd loudly booing him after he refused to accept congratulations from Williams (22-1-1).
Mares returned from a 16-month ring absence following two losses in his previous five fights, including the only stoppage defeat of his 12-year pro career. Neither Cuellar nor Mares had fought in 2016: They were scheduled to meet in June, but the fight was scrapped after the New York athletic commission refused to sanction it when Mares couldn’t pass an eye examination.
Mares has had eye issues during his career, but they didn’t stop him from becoming a three-division champion with a solid following in the Los Angeles area, where the Mexican-born dual citizen grew up.
The fight was the ninth major title bout of Mares’ career, and he showed his championship tenacity with a clever game plan that showcased his boxing skill. Mares fought more efficiently than Cuellar, landing 35 percent of his 619 punches and 41 percent of his power shots.
Cuellar, the Argentine veteran trained by Freddie Roach, attacked Mares from the opening round, but the champion’s predictability allowed Mares to pick his shots while edging several early rounds. Cuellar’s superior power showed up later and turned the fight in his direction _ before Mares replied emphatically in the 11th.
Mares battered Cuellar on the ropes moments after the knockdown. Cuellar recovered, but Mares persevered through a solid 12th to win it. “Cuellar was a little flat,” Roach said. “Abner had a good strategy. He moved and he held, and it worked. Abner was the better man.”
Charlo is a Houston-based fighter whose twin brother, Jermell, also holds a 154-pound belt. On the biggest stage of his still-young career, Jermall Charlo followed up an impressive knockout with a bit of churlish behavior in the ring. Charlo first showed off his considerable skill, knocking down Williams with a precise left jab in the second round. Williams, a Philadelphia native in his first title fight, recovered from the knockdown and even staggered Charlo later in the round.
Charlo kept working and eventually finished Williams, putting the challenger face-down on the canvas with an uppercut before finishing it moments later. But when Charlo declined to accept Williams’ walk across the ring to offer post-fight congratulations, the fighters’ camps exchanged harsh words and the Los Angeles crowd booed Charlo vociferously.
“No matter what, people have to respect my accomplishments,” Charlo said through the boos. “He just wasn’t on my level. I told everyone what I was going to do since the fight was announced.”
Charlo might have tarnished his reputation, but his actions also undeniably raised his profile in the competitive 154-pound division. Charlo jumped on the ropes to egg on the crowd _ but he also apologized later, catching up with Williams backstage for a hug.