- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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In this day and age, if a fighter takes on two top opponents in a row, that is saying something. And then there is Abner Mares.
Mares has earned a reputation as one of the more exciting fighters in boxing, and he has done it while fighting one of the most rigorous schedules -- against four consecutive top-level opponents -- over the past two years.
There was a draw with Yonnhy Perez in a bantamweight world title shot that many believed Mares deserved to win.
Then Mares was part of Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament, which he won with a pair of exciting decisions. He survived an early knockdown and a brutal cut to outpoint powerful Vic Darchinyan in the semifinals and then took a majority decision against Joseph Agbeko to win a world title and the tournament. But because of a controversy over the referee missing a series of low blows Mares landed on Agbeko, a rematch was ordered. Mares accepted the December fight without any problem and steamrolled Agbeko for a lopsided decision to retain his belt.
Now Mares, a 2004 Mexican Olympian who lives in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif., is moving up to junior featherweight in hopes of conquering another weight class. It starts against former flyweight titlist (and 1996 U.S. Olympian) Eric Morel of Puerto Rico.
Although the fight is at a contract catchweight of 120 pounds, they will meet for a vacant 122-pound title on Saturday night (Showtime, 9:30 ET/PT) at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas. But with Morel on deck, Mares -- as his past schedule suggests -- has designs on bigger fights.
He basically wants to fight everybody.
"I'm going to name, like, five, and all of them would be great fights, from bottom to top: Victor Terrazas, Fernando Montiel, Rafael Marquez, Wilfredo Vasquez Jr., Jorge Arce, and the big name that is up there is, no doubt, Nonito Donaire," Mares said. "If all those fights can be made, I'm more than willing to take those fights."
The problem is, however, that those fights are unlikely to be made because Mares is promoted by Golden Boy and all of the fighters he named are either represented by Top Rank or its close associate Zanfer Promotions. Golden Boy and Top Rank are bitter rivals and don't do any significant business together.
Donaire-Mares would have been a major bantamweight title fight, but it was never really discussed. Donaire relinquished his belts and moved up to junior featherweight, winning a vacant title in February by outpointing Vazquez.
And now it is Mares' turn in the junior featherweight division.
"It was obviously a team decision," Mares said of the decision to move up in weight. "Why not? I think 122 is really interesting right now. Big names are there. I've fought everybody at 118, and 122 has great names, and I can face all these guys back-to-back and I'd love to. I'm blessed and thrilled that this next fight is for a 122-pound title."
In Saturday's co-feature, bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno (32-1-1, 11 KOs), 26, of Panama, will make his 10th title defense of the belt he won in 2008. He'll face Mexico's David De La Mora (24-1, 17 KOs), 26, whose lone defeat came in a title fight in Japan against Koki Kameda in August. Additional undercard bouts will air on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer said he would have liked to make a fight between Mares and Donaire, or Mares against any of the Top Rank fighters. But, at least for now, neither side is budging from the cold-war mentality they're mired in.
So that leaves the 26-year-old Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs) to face Morel (46-2, 33 KOs), who is a decade older than him and nowhere near his prime, during which he held a flyweight title from 2000 to 2003 (although he briefly held an interim bantamweight belt in 2010).
"I'm not worried and I'm not training any different because he's  years old," Mares said. "I'm not training less because he has more fights. I'm just training like I always train for any opponent. I just look at this fight like another fight. Another opponent, another fight. I've fought top opposition and I've been able to adjust to every fighter.
"That's just because of the way I train and the way I set myself mentally. I'm not concerned with my age, younger, older. I know he trains hard and I do expect a tough fight. None of that crosses my mind."
Morel, who was idle from 2005 to 2008 because he was in prison, said his age won't be a factor against Mares.
"Mares is a great fighter, but my age is nothing but a number," he said. "I'm in great shape, my speed is there and I have more power. I feel like nothing is going to stop me. I can guarantee you that age isn't catching up to me.
"Mares is not going to bring anything to the table that I haven't seen before. I'm a veteran, I've been doing this for a while and I've got to prove myself. Therefore, I've been training extremely hard and I'm not looking past this fight. It's going to be a great fight. It's do-or-die for me."
Still, Mares is a prohibitive favorite and Schaefer said that if he and Moreno both win their Saturday bouts, he would like to match the two fighters.
"I do believe that, in those weight classes, in no order, Mares, Donaire and Moreno are the three best guys," Schaefer said. "If [Top Rank's Bob] Arum doesn't want to be part of making a fight like Mares and Donaire, I will push for Mares-Moreno. I think the public wants to see fights where they don't know who is going to win. It's refreshing to see Mares and Moreno are willing to fight anyone. Mares has shown that in his last few fights.
"When he went into the bantamweight tournament, many people thought he was a bit too young and didn't have enough experience to be in that group, and obviously he won the tournament. So we're very excited about being able to promote him, because he is willing to fight anyone."
Moreno, who is coming off a lopsided decision against Darchinyan on Mares' last undercard in December, also has shown he will fight anybody. He, too, would like to face Donaire. But since Moreno is signed to Golden Boy and the promotional cold war also hampers that fight, he said he would fight the best possible opponent his team can get for him.
"That is a dream of mine," Moreno, through a translator, said of fighting Donaire. "I've been dreaming about it, thinking about it, and that is something I look forward to. Work my way up to 122 pounds, and fighting Nonito Donaire is definitely something that I have on my mind.
"[But] I don't pick opponents. Everybody that knows me knows I don't pick opponents. I let my promoter, my management and my team pick the opponents, and I just fight. To go up to 122 to fight Morel, to fight Mares and fight the best out there, that's my goal and that's what I'll do."