- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The stunning first-round knockout loss to Jhonny Gonzalez that cost Abner Mares his featherweight world title went down as one of the biggest upsets of 2013. Slowly, but surely, Mares is trying to get back on track following that defeat.
A rematch with Gonzalez planned for February was canceled when Mares suffered an injury. Then Mares, who left trainer Clemente Medina to work with Virgil Hunter, returned in July after an 11-month layoff.
Although Mares (27-1-1, 14 KOs), also a former bantamweight and junior featherweight titlist, outpointed Jonathan Oquendo, his performance was tentative and uninspiring. The pairing with Hunter did not last long. After the Oquendo fight, Mares decided to return to Medina, the man who had guided him to all three of his world titles (as well as the one loss).
Medina will be back in Mares’ corner when he fights against Jose Ramirez on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET) on the Devon Alexander-Amir Khan undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I had been working with Virgil Hunter in Oakland, California, prior to coming back to Clemente, (so) I had to sit down with Virgil,” Mares said. “I learned so much from him. He’s such a wise man. Everything that he says means something and I was fortunate enough to work with him. He taught me a lot and, if anything, you will see many things I learned from Virgil in my next fight on (Saturday). ... I feel very comfortable with Clemente.”
When Mares, who turned 29 two weeks ago, decided to go work with Hunter he said he and Medina did not split on bad terms, so the reunion was easy.
“Mares is a wonderful fighter. I don’t have to change anything. The reason he came back to me is because he knows my style, and my style is similar to Mares,” Medina said. “He and I together are a very good team. I wasn’t surprised when he came back to me because before he left he told me that he wanted to try to learn something different.
“I wasn’t happy, but I understood. He needed to learn something different from someone else. I told him that if he wants to come back to train with me, the door is always open.”
Medina thinks that Hunter’s training style made for a less aggressive Mares. He said he expects Mares to be more aggressive Saturday than he was against Oquendo.
“Mares is an aggressive fighter, but he’s also very smart,” Medina said. “I expect to see the old Mares on (Saturday). I think that Mares was thinking too much in his fight with Virgil and I think that he will go back to being more aggressive and smart.
“Mares is much more confident now that he has come back to a real team. He’s back with his family, and you can tell that he’s much happier. He didn’t feel 100 percent when training in Oakland, but he is very comfortable here (at home in Los Angeles).”
Ramirez (24-3-2, 15 KOs), 27, will be fighting for the first time in the 14 months since he was knocked out in the fourth round by Vasyl Lomachenko, who was making his professional debut and later won a world title.
“I’m ready for this next opponent, who I know little about, and that scares me,” Mares said. “When you don’t know much about a fighter it reminds you that he can bring anything.”
With a victory, Mares figures to move into a higher-profile fight -- perhaps a world title bout. Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya has also said repeatedly that he would like to make a fight between Mares and junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz. Whatever comes after Saturday, Mares said he is determined to win another world title.
“I’m blessed, healthy and hungry. Hungry is the key word for me. I’m hungry to become a world champion again and to get back to where I was,” Mares said. “It’s not that I want to become world champion again, I’m going to. I’m going to let my actions speak louder than my words.”